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Medical Musings: It's gut-check time for the PVC industry

A group called the PVCMed Alliance is being formed in Europe to defend use of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) in healthcare applications. It includes PVC resin and plasticizer producers as well as PVC converters such as Renolit  and Tarkett.

  and Tarkett.

One of the group's goals is to promote environmentally friendly practices in healthcare applications. If that's truly the goal, it's a welcome development. In one example, Ole Grøndahl Hansen, project manager, told PlasticsToday that the PVCMed Alliance will seek partnerships for PVC medical waste recycling.

The real issue is not PVC recycling, however. It's the use of DEHP (di-2-ethyl hexyl phthalate) plasticizers, which are under attack globally by healthcare institutions because of concerns of chemical leaching that could particularly impact infants.  Kaiser Permanente announced earlier this year that it will no longer buy intravenous (IV) medical equipment made with polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and DEHP-type plasticizers. Dignity Health also no longer uses DEHP-based PVC. Partners Healthcare in Boston expects to make the same move.

The PVCMed Alliance (and for that matter the Vinyl Institute in the United States) should conduct research on the safety of alternative chemicals that plasticize PVC. They include citrates, adipates, trimellitates and Hexamol DINCH from BASF, one of the members of the PVCMed Alliance.

If the group's approach is to promote the safety of DEHP-plasticized PVC, that's going to be a tough battle, in my opinion. It's hard to find anyone other than public relations people that will stand up and say face-to-face that DEHP-plasticized PVC is proven to be completely safe for use.

Meanwhile a whole new industry is emerging to provide substitutes, such as ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA), thermoplastic elastomers, multilayer polyethylene or polypropylene, silicone and polyurethane. Technical problems, such as welding, are being solved.

The chemical industry tends to dig in to protect huge commercial positions. The polycarbonate industry did it with bisphenol A (BPA) and saw whole market segments disappear. A better approach is to face reality, and prepare for the future. One example comes from Hexis Health (Frontignan, France), which is introducing an antimicrobial PVC film for hospitals that uses polymeric plasticizers.

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