A federal government panel taking a second look at the safety of the most widely used plasticizer in PVC medical devices has renewed its concerns about exposure for some children and pregnant women, but also noted that healthy adults do not appear to be at risk.
Prompted by new research and continued public questions, it's the second time in five years that a panel of independent scientists convened by the National Toxicology Program has taken a look at di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate.
This time around the group tweaked its conclusions, in some cases saying that additional research had lessened some of the earlier concerns. Panel members met Oct. 10-12 in Alexandria.
But the panel also raised questions about whether babies could be exposed to phthalates from milk collected with breast pumps, and it noted significant uncertainties about how DEHP and other phthalates jointly affect people, since no person is exposed to only DEHP. Phthalates are used widely in cosmetics and personal-care products.
Both industry groups and environmental organizations praised the Oct 12 report.
The American Chemistry Council said it was fair, and noted that the panel this time around found less reason to be concerned for some groups, like children over age 1, and that the report would keep safety margins the same. ACC's Phthalate Esters Panel suggested that the government panel was too cautious in reading some of the data.
``The assessment was fair but very conservative,'' said Marian Stanley, the manager of the ACC panel. ``It is important that the levels of concern for the various subpopulations were no higher, and sometimes lower, than in the last report, thanks to our improved knowledge of human exposure.''
Environmental group Healthcare Without Harm, which pushes for the elimination of PVC, said NTP's continued raising of concern for sensitive groups, like young children or pregnant women receiving extensive medical treatment, means that hospitals should move away from DEHP.
HCWH senior research associate Mark Rossi said panel members also rejected a controversial Japanese study of marmoset monkeys that industry had been touting. EPA scientist Robert Kavlock, who headed the panel, said there were too many questions about that study for the panel to use it.
ACC, for its part, noted that the panel was skeptical of the conclusions in a widely publicized University of Rochester study from earlier this year, claiming that phthalate exposure in the womb could affect sexual development in infants.
While panel members said in interviews after the meeting that it would be reasonable to ask doctors about DEHP-free products for infants undergoing some treatments, they also said their report did not look at the safety of alternative chemicals.