|Dangerously high levels of dioxins and other toxic chemicals are regularly produced and released by local vinyl production facilities. |
The purpose of this page is to make you aware of the danger that PVC poses to your health as well as the environment. We have recognized this danger and have decided to replace our PVC packaging with environmentally safe PET plastic.
PVC products create dioxins when burned, leach toxic additives during use (see REHW #603) and are the least recyclable of all major plastics. Because of these and other reasons a number of organizations have called for a PVC phase-out, including the American Public Health Association and the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF). The Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers has declared PVC a contaminant to plastics recycling. Numerous businesses have either eliminated or begun working towards a PVC phase- out in their products and facilities, including Nike, Volvo, Saab, Braun, Ikea, the Body Shop, JM and Svenska Bostder (two of Sweden's leading construction companies). Major construction projects such as the Sydney 2000 Olympics village are being designed to minimize the use of PVC "by selecting alternative materials where they are available, are fit for the purpose and are cost competitive." To learn about alternatives to PVC, go to: www.greenpeaceusa.org
According to the EPA, "vinyl chloride emissions from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), ethylene dichloride (EDC), and vinyl chloride monomer (VCM) plants cause or contribute to air pollution that may reasonably be anticipated to result in an increase in mortality or an increase in serious irreversible, or incapacitating reversible illness. Vinyl chloride is a known human carcinogen which causes a rare cancer of the liver."
Vinyl chloride production is also inherently a source of dioxins, a highly toxic substance that can cause cancer and other illnesses in humans even at very low exposure levels. Dioxins are a global health threat because they persist in the environment and can travel long distances. At very low levels, near those to which the general population is exposed, dioxins have been linked to immune system suppression, reproductive disorders, a variety of cancers, and endometriosis. According to a 1994 report by the British firm, ICI Chemicals & Polymers Ltd., "It has been known since the publication of a paper in 1989 that these oxychlorination reactions [used to make vinyl chloride and some chlorinated solvents] generate polychlorinated dibenzodioxins (PCDDs) and dibenzofurans (PCDFs). The reactions include all of the ingredients and conditions necessary to form PCDD/PCDFs.... It is difficult to see how any of these conditions could be modified so as to prevent PCDD/PCDF formation without seriously impairing the reaction for which the process is designed." In other words, dioxins are an unavoidable consequence of making PVC. Dioxins created by vinyl chloride production are released by on-site incinerators, flares, boilers, wastewater treatment systems and even in trace quantities in vinyl resins.
Around the world, scientists have identified high levels of dioxin near PVC production facilities. In 1996, scientists investigating dioxin in the sediment of the Rhine River in Europe found that overall dioxin levels have declined in recent years except for the specific types traceable to vinyl chloride production. In Lake Charles, Louisiana, high levels of dioxin-like chemicals (e.g. hexachlorobenzene) have been documented in the Calcasieu Estuary outside of the PPG and Vista Chemical PVC production plants. Vinyl production in a chemical complex outside Venice, Italy has polluted the Venice lagoon with dioxin.
Japanese communities are reporting some of the highest dioxin levels in the world from the incineration of wastes containing PVC materials. It is ironic that while Japanese government officials are proposing restrictions on the manufacture of PVC products to avoid increased dioxin levels, Shintech, a Japanese-owned corporation, is battling American citizens to build a PVC production complex in Louisiana.
U.S. communities near vinyl production plants have already been hurt. For instance, in Louisiana, two poor African-American communities, Morrisonville (once next to Dow Chemical in Plaquemine Parish) and Reveilletown (once next to Georgia Gulf also in Plaquemine Parish) were bought out and razed by the vinyl production companies because of groundwater contamination, toxic air releases, and health problems suffered by residents. Ethylene dichloride (EDC), a suspected human carcinogen used in the production of PVC, has leaked from the Vista Chemical and PPG facilities into the groundwater below the African- American community of Mossville.
"The worst may be yet to come," according to the HOUSTON CHRONICLE. The CHRONICLE explains that "[t]he 200-foot zone of the Chicot Aquifer, which supplies some private water wells, is tainted with EDC.... The concern is that the compound will seep into the 500-foot zone, which provides city drinking water for more than 100,000 people."
I hope that you are not using PVC pipes for you drinking water.
You should definitely check the following links as well:
The Horrors of Vinyl
On a trip this summer, I stayed in a tall, narrow Victorian house converted into a motel. Arriving late at night, I entered my room, its walls covered in flesh-colored PVC vinyl, its plastic smell offgassing into the hot stagnant air, and wished I could check right out. The contrast of the original dark wood moldings with all this new PVC produced a psychic imbalance, and when I pulled the PVC-lined shower curtain I felt I'd strayed into the Bates Motel.
But not only aesthetics were at stake. PVC, widely used in flooring, wallcoverings, countertops, miniblinds, water pipes and windowframes, is a toxic substance throughout its life cycle. The manufacture and incineration of PVC create dioxins, known human carcinogens also linked to reproductive and immune disorders. Because exposure to a single PVC fire can cause permanent respiratory disease, the International Association of Fire Fighters says it supports "alternative building materials that do not pose as much risk as PVC to fire fighters, building occupants or communities."
In a home, PVC offgasses phthalate plasticizers into the air. One class of phthalates, DEHP, has been classified by EPA as a probable human carcinogen, and, in animal tests, has produced damage to the heart, liver, kidneys and reproductive systems, according to Michael McCally, M.D., at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. And a 1997 study by the National Institute of Public Health in Norway showed that children with PVC flooring in their homes had an 89% higher risk of bronchial obstruction than children in PVC-free homes. Carcinogenic vinyl chloride may leach into drinking water from pre-1976 PVC pipes, as happened in Doniphan County, Kansas in 1998. Newer PVC pipes may leach organotin biocides, chemicals added to kill bacteria. Plus, in a June 1999 investigation on unhealthy hotel air, The Wall Street Journal reported, "One of the biggest culprits is vinyl wallpaper...which molds love for the way it traps vapor."
In addition to avoiding and removing toxic substances, you'll add to your home ecology score by incorporating sounder environmental products -- and practices -- into your checklist. These include buying local and sustainably-produced or recycled materials as much as possible. Such precautions will help ensure that your old house, or apartment, will bear no resemblance to the House on Haunted Hill or the Amityville Horror, except, perhaps, from the standpoint of a mold.