Building a clean, sustainable future

Feature story - 6 April, 2004
A large part of our work is exposing environmental crimes and confronting environmental criminals with the consequences of their actions. However we are not just about whizzing around the high seas in inflatables chasing whaling ships and oil tankers. Problems require solutions - so that's why we are helping build environmentally sound homes for low-income families in New Orleans.

Building a toxic free, sustainable home for low-income families. The house is free of toxic materials like PVC, the wood is from sustainable forests and the construction is solar powered.

Polluting building products like PVC plastic (Vinyl) are promoted byindustry as low cost solutions for housing. However PVC is the mostenvironmentally damaging of all plastics. There are alternatives to PVCplastic and other harmful materials and building processes. GreenpeaceUSA has teamed up with Habitat for Humanity and other groups to helpcreate a project that shows first-hand a low-cost solution to PVC inhome building. We are building a house that is both PVC-free andreplicable for low-income families. Among other green features the homeis free of toxic materials, contains sustainable wood and theconstruction site is solar powered.

Habitat for Humanity builds low cost housing for families on lowincomes. Shylia and her four children will be the happy new owners of ahome that is a healthy environment to raise her family in. Volunteersfrom Greenpeace, other organisations and local students are allpitching in to lend a hand in the construction project. Their effortsare being documented on a weblog diary of the project.

The first few days involved a crash course in constructionfor the keen, but maybe slightly novice, builders from constructionmanager Valerie "Miss T" Smith and construction supervisor Billy "TheCowboy" Pucket. Apparently "flushing" isn't just something you do to atoilet, "stud" is not just a hot guy and "toenail" isn't just a part ofyour body.

The hot weather meant frequent breaks for the volunteers but allowed the Greenpeace rolling sunlight vehicleto power the construction site. The two meter solar panels have beenproviding clean juice for the variety of power tools such as the giantelectrical clippers.

Cancer Alley

The house will be finished towards the end of April. This project isespecially relevant as the industrial corridor stretching from BatonRouge south to New Orleans along the Mississippi River, commonly knownas "Cancer Alley," is home to more than 140 petrochemical producers andusers. This is one of the highest concentration of manufacturers, usersand emitters of toxic chemicals in the US. Many of these plants are themost polluting types in the world - PVC production facilities. Nolonger is this the romanticised waterway that Mark Twain popularised in'The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn'.

Many of these PVC plants and old dumpsites are located in poorcommunities, most often in communities of colour. People living next tothese facilities are experiencing illnesses that they directlyattribute to toxic air and water emissions. In some cases, entirecommunities have been literally wiped off the map.

Promoting Poisons

While Shylia and her children can't wait for the house to befinished not everyone is so happy. The Vinyl Institute, the tradeassociation of vinyl manufacturers, wrote to Habitat for HumanityInternational in February, criticizing the New Orleans affiliate forworking with Greenpeace on this project. Why? Well, rather than addressthe pollution caused by PVC manufacture and the problems caused inlocal communities, the institute's members prefer the easy option ofdonating the same poison plastic to the very people who suffer from thepollution.

Actually the Vinyl Institute decided to pay the project a surprise visitin the shape of Jim Kosinski. Rick, our toxic campaigner, noticed Jimwondering around the site taking pictures. Being the friendly, curiousguy he is, Rick approached our unannounced guest to find out what hewas doing. After a gentle inquisition our guest turn out to be aproject manager from the Vinyl Institute who apparently was "just inthe neighbourhood" and "curious" to drop in on the project.

Never afraid of a healthy debate, Rick invited Jim to join a pressconference to give the industry view on PVC. But unfortunately Jim "hada plane to catch".

The only way to end the production of this poison plastic is to showthat practical affordable alternatives exist. Shylia's home istestament to that fact; let's ensure it is the first of many.

Take action:

Convinced? Find alternatives to PVC in buildings in our global alternatives database.


Discover where PVC may be found in your home.

Detailed info on PVC.