NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Plastic Benefits Health Care

August 30, 2000

In their ongoing campaign against chlorine-based chemical compounds, Greenpeace and a coalition of environmental activists called Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) is seeking to limit or prohibit the use of plastics called polyvinylchlorides (PVCs) in medical products.

There is no evidence of adverse effects from medical use of PVCs, confirmed by five to seven billion patient days of acute exposure over more than 40 years and one to two billion patient days of chronic exposure (such as patients receiving dialysis).

In fact, PVC is the only flexible material approved by the European Pharmacopoeia for life-saving medical devices, and it is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Since there is no evidence of harm, the only reason to ban PVCs is "just to be on the safe side." But what are the trade-offs? What beneficial products will we lose? What new risks will immerge from substitutes?

  • In the U.S., 25 percent of all medical devices made with plastic use PVC -- including flexible tubing, intravenous bags, catheters and protective gloves.
  • Vinyl medical products are particularly important for blood storage, with 12 million units of blood collected in PVC blood bags each year in the U.S.
  • The shelf life of red blood cells is actually doubled when stored in vinyl bags.

Alternative products are more expensive, less effective or untested. But the HCWH essentially calls for a standard that requires proving there is "no risk" from a product before it can be used, and for withdrawing existing products whenever anyone expresses a concern, regardless of the impact on health care.

Source: Bill Durodie, "Poisonous Propaganda: Global Echoes of an Anti-Vinyl Agenda," July 2000, Competitive Enterprise Institute, 1001 Connecticut Avenue, N.W., Suite 1250, Washington, D.C. 20036, (202) 331-1010.


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