In a June 25 op-ed column, Charles Krauthammer bemoans the "triumph of bogus science" in U.S. courts, citing class-action lawsuits that have been costly to the manufacturers of breast implants. He dismisses concerns about chemicals such as di-ethylhexyl-phthalte, or DEHP, used in plastics as the same kind of groundless "scare."

The Environmental Protection Agency lists this chemical as a probable human carcinogen, and studies of laboratory animals suggest that it produces toxic effects in multiple organ systems.

Flexible polyvinyl chloride (PVC) recently has come under fire from health care providers and consumer groups because of the ease with which the chemical leaches from plastic. Particular concern focuses on leaching into medicine from IV bags and into blood used for transfusions -- especially for people most exposed to such medical equipment, such as hemophiliacs, kidney dialysis patients and high-risk newborns. This issue is hard to evaluate because the primary risks implied in animal studies would be difficult to detect in sick people but could delay their recovery.

The University of Massachusetts' Lowell Center for Sustainable Production recently analyzed more than 100 published studies on this chemical. It found that patients can be exposed to substantial levels of the chemical through medical devices.

While our scientific knowledge of dangers associated with DEHP may have gaps, Mr. Krauthammer too easily dismisses the evidence indicating risk. Safer, cost-effective alternatives are available that can -- and should -- be used in medical devices.


Executive Director

American Public Health Association