Hospitalized premature babies might be harmed by the very equipment used to treat them, according to a new study by Johns Hopkins University.
The study found infants were being exposed to a chemical most commonly referred to as DEHP.
DEHP is used to increase the flexibility of some plastic devices, and researchers found it in hospitals' tubing, catheters, and fluid and blood product bags. Researchers said the infants' greatest exposure came from the tubes placed in the babies' airways for breathing support.
The study noted previous research finding DEHP might interfere with normal hormone function and could also increase inflammation and cause problems with the liver, lungs, brain and eyes.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also notes the chemical might affect the development of testicles in newborn boys.
The study found the babies' daily DEHP intake was about 4,000 to 160,000 times higher than recommended to prevent side effects.
Senior researcher Eric Mallow says, "It's remarkable that the care of sick and developmentally vulnerable preterm infants depends on an environment composed almost entirely of plastic."
Researchers noted DEHP is unregulated when it comes to medical devices, but is limited in children's toys and products. They recommend replacing all DEHP-containing equipment with products that do not contain the chemical.
Europe has already begun working to eliminate the chemical from medical products. DEHP is one of six chemicals being phased out by the European Commission.
In 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration did recommend that non-DEHP medical products be used hospitals.