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Wall Street Journal

Intravenous Bags, Tubes Redesigned for Safety

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By Peter Waldman
April 19, 2006; Page D3

Responding to the rising demand for safer hospital products, Hospira Inc., the nation's second-largest maker of intravenous bags and tubes, plans to announce its first major overhaul of IV gear in more than 30 years.

Specifically, the Lake Forest, Ill., company said it plans today to introduce a new line of IV equipment made of propylene rather than polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, a common plastic that public-health advocates say poses environmental and health hazards at every stage from production through disposal. Hospira also said its new propylene bags and tubes will be made without diethylhexyl phthalate, or DEHP, a plasticizer used to soften PVC that can leach from medical equipment into the bloodstreams of hospital patients. Other studies have shown DEHP can disrupt the body's hormone system.

"This is a wonderful step forward," said Ted Schettler, a physician with the Boston Medical Center who has helped lead a medical campaign to prod hospitals and their suppliers to find alternatives to gear made with PVC and DEHP.

The nation's largest hospital-gear supplier, Baxter Healthcare Corp., announced yesterday that it was introducing IV equipment made without PVC and DEHP. But Baxter, a unit of Baxter International Inc., said the launch of its "premium line" would be limited to a "pilot program" and was targeted at "niche applications...such as neonatal, pediatric and oncology patients."

In contrast, Robert Felicelli, who heads Hospira's IV-product unit, said the company expects the new propylene gear eventually to replace its line made with PVC and DEHP. Accordingly, he said Hospira plans to price the new gear "competitively," to promote broad adoption. At first, the propylene equipment may cost more per unit than PVC gear, but Mr. Felicelli said the overall cost to hospitals should be less. That's partly because propylene bags don't require the extra layers of preservative wrapping that PVC bags do, eliminating some 20 million pounds of hospital waste, he says.

U.S. hospitals spend about $1.2 billion a year on IV solutions and gear, and Baxter and Hospira dominate about 90% of the market. New health regulations have shrunk DEHP demand in Europe, but its production has remained stable in the U.S. -- where restrictions on DEHP use are voluntary -- at about 120,000 metric tons of DEHP a year.

However, with a rising number of hospitals demanding safer products, and suppliers now responding, that may change. In November, for example, Catholic Healthcare West awarded a five-year, $70 million contract for IV gear to B. Braun Medical Inc. of Bethlehem, Pa., because the B. Braun products don't contain PVC or DEHP. The 40-hospital chain had been buying its IV equipment from Baxter, says the Catholic Healthcare West's Sister Mary Ellen Leciejewski, "but B. Braun had alternatives ready to go and Baxter didn't," she said.

A spokeswoman for Baxter, Erin Gardiner, said: "We're looking at this as a specialty, niche market. We put in the time and the focus needed to launch a specialty product line."

Write to *Peter Waldman at peter.waldman@wsj.com

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