Importance Phthalate chemicals are used to manufacture disposable plastic medical products, including blood storage bags and components of cardiopulmonary bypass (CPB) circuits. During cardiac surgery, patients can be inadvertently exposed to phthalate chemicals that are released from these plastic products.
Objective To quantify iatrogenic phthalate chemical exposure in pediatric patients undergoing cardiac surgery, and examine the link between phthalate exposure and post-operative outcomes.
Design, Setting, and Participants The study cohort included 122 pediatric patients undergoing cardiac surgery at Children’s National Hospital. For each patient, a single plasma sample was collected pre-operatively and two additional samples were collected post-operatively upon return from the operating room (post-operative day 0) and the morning after surgery (post-operative day 1).
Exposures Concentrations of di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP) and its metabolites were quantified using ultra high-pressure liquid chromatography coupled to mass spectrometry.
Main Outcomes and Measures Plasma concentrations of phthalates, post-operative blood gas measurements, and post-operative complications.
Results Study subjects were subdivided into three groups, according to surgical procedure: 1) cardiac surgery not requiring CPB support, 2) cardiac surgery requiring CPB with crystalloid prime, and 3) cardiac surgery requiring CPB with red blood cells (RBCs) to prime the circuit. Phthalate metabolites were detected in all patients, and postoperative phthalate levels were highest in patients undergoing CPB with RBC-based prime. Age-matched (<1 year) CPB patients with elevated phthalate exposure were more likely to experience post-operative complications, including arrhythmias, low cardiac output syndrome, and additional post-operative interventions. RBC washing was an effective strategy to reduce DEHP levels in CPB prime.
Conclusions and Relevance Pediatric cardiac surgery patients are exposed to phthalate chemicals from plastic medical products, and the degree of exposure increases in the context of CPB with RBC-based prime. Additional studies are warranted to measure the direct effect of phthalates on patient health outcomes and investigate mitigation strategies to reduce exposure.