What are the potential effects of the plastic used in blood bags and tubing when you donate by plasma or platelets by apheresis?

The sterile, disposable blood storage bags and the tubing that we use to collect blood components from donors contain Di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP). This is a plasticiser used in many medical devices and procedures.

DEHP is widespread in our environment, and we’re exposed to it every day through food, plastic products, air and water. Phthalates, including DEHP, are in a huge number of common items, from plastic household products to food and drink containers, flooring, roofing, wall coverings, cables, paints, pharmaceutical products and clothing.  

Although toxic effects from DEHP haven’t been seen in humans, animal studies with very high doses of DEHP have shown effects on development and reproduction.

Because some blood is returned to you when you donate plasma and platelets by apheresis, you may be exposed to low levels of DEHP. However:

  • This exposure is extremely small compared to the exposure from everyday sources.
  • Lifeblood uses processes to minimise exposure and we make sure potentially vulnerable groups, like pregnant women, can’t donate blood.
  • A number of other medical procedures, like dialysis, have a much larger risk of high DEHP exposure.
  • DEHP-containing plastics have been used in medical treatment for over 40 years with no reports of significant adverse effects.

Given the very slight concern of medical exposure to DEHP plastics, Lifeblood is monitoring research on potential alternatives. For now, though, these plasticisers are necessary because they greatly improve the strength, consistency and effectiveness of the plastics used to collect and hold blood products.

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