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PVC industry

Background - June 2, 2003
PVC plastic is a product of the chlorine industry. It is now the single largest use for chlorine today, using about one third of all global production. About 40 million tonnes of chlorine is produced by the chemical industry every year.

Greenpeace action at Hong Kong Toys and Games Fair '99, against use of PVC in toys.

PVC and chlorine | History of PVC | PVC toxic hotspots

PVC and chlorine

Chlorine is found in nature predominantly in the form of salt, a stable compound that is essential to many natural processes. By using massive amounts of electricity, the chemical industry destroys the salt compound's stability. This creates an extremely reactive form of chlorine that is not widely found in nature. The use of this elemental chlorine (Cl2) results in products and wastes, many of which are toxic to wildlife, humans or the ecosystem.

Chlorine is highly energy intensive to make. Therefore chlor alkali plants are often located near cheap sources of energy. For instance the 20 chlorine plants in Germany need as much electricity as 40 towns (each with 100,000 inhabitants). In Germany the chlorine industry pays only five Pfennigs for each kilowatt hour used. This price is subsidised by the taxpayer who pays 50 Pfennigs per kilowatt hour.

"The dynamic growth of chlorine chemistry during the 1950s and 1960s represents a decisive mistake in this century of industrial development. This mistake would not have occurred had our present research on the environmental damage and health risks due to chlorine chemistry been available then."

German Council of Experts for Environmental Issues, 1990

History of PVC

PVC is an organochlorine, which was first patented in 1913 by Fritz Klatte. However, its development was hindered by pure PVC's thermal instability and its low workability.

During the 1930s, German experiments with various stabilisers and softeners lead to the first useable forms of PVC. By the early 1950's, PVC was second only to polythene, as the most important synthetic product in Germany.

PVC development was part of the huge expansion of the chlorine industry after the Second World War. PVC, Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) and Chlorofluorocarbons (CFC's) are all products of this post war boom in the chlorine industry. Currently there are over 11,000 organochlorines now in commercial use.

Organochlorines are useful to industry because they tend to be very stable and they resist natural breakdown processes. However, this also means that they may persist in the environment for decades, moving up the food chain and contaminating wildlife and humans.

Many chlorinated products and byproducts are considered to be Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). The best known POPs are the pesticide DDT and dioxins, which are byproducts of many processes involving chlorine.

PVC toxic hotspots

Greenpeace has produced a map of global toxics hotspots. Below is a summary of the hotspots related to PVC.

Production

BRAZIL: Solvay Dioxin Hotspot, Santo Andre, Sao Paulo, Brazil.

NETHERLANDS: Rotterdam Harbour Dioxin hotspot, 'Chemiehaven' Rotterdam Harbour.

TURKEY: Petkim Petrochemical co. Izmit, Turkey.

UK: Holford Brine Caverns, Holford, near Northwich, Cheshire; Waste Dump.

UK: Weston Marsh Lagoons and Weston Canal, Adjacent to ICI /EVC Runcorn site, Waste dump.

US: Calcasieu Estuary, Lake Charles, Louisiana, Vinyl and chlorinated solvents manufacturing facilities; historical dumping ground.

Disposal

AUSTRIA: Dioxin contaminated landfill, Landfill "Rautenweg", Vienna.

AUSTRALIA: Port Kembla, Steel Smelter. Emissions/discharge of dioxins and furans.

AUSTRALIA: Totalcare Incinerator, Mitchell, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory.

AUSTRALIA: BHP Whyalla Steelworks Pellet Plant, Whyalla, South Australia. Emission/discharge, dioxins and furans.

CANADA: PVC Plastic (vinyl) fires dioxin hotspots, Ontario and Québec, Industrial accident.

DENMARK: Staalvalsevaerket Frederiksvaerk. (Steelsmelter of Frederiksvaerk), Sealand, Dioxin emissions to air and dioxin contamination of filter ash.

JAPAN: Two gigantic landfills named Yatozawa and Futatsuduka in Hinode town, in the west of Tokyo, Waste dump.

JAPAN: Ryugasaki-City and Shin-tone town, Shirotori MSW incinerator in Shin-tone town, Ibaraki Prefecture. Shirotori MSW Batch type incinerator, dioxins and PAHs.

JAPAN: Sakai Nr. 519-1, Chuo-Cho, Kume-Gun, Okayama Prefecture, Japan. Open burning site of industrial waste.

JAPAN: Toyono District Clean Centre in Nose-Town, Toyono-district in Osaka Prefecture, Dioxin emission/discharge form MSW incineration stack gas and ash-washing water.

UK: SELCHP Incinerator. Deptford, London Borough of Lewisham. Emission/discharge source.

UK: British Steel integrated iron and steel works. Llanwern, South Wales. Emission/discharge source of dioxin. Sinter plant and furnace.

UK: British Steel integrated iron and steel works. Port Talbot, South Wales. Emission/discharge source of dioxin. Source: Sinter plant and furnace.

UK: British Steel integrated iron and steel works, Scunthorpe, North Lincolnshire. Emission/discharge source of dioxin.