Healthy Homes Healthy Communities: Building a Toxic-Free Future


Feature story - April 20, 2004
As long as we use vinyl to build houses, chemical companies will continue to produce PVC. It is time for a change.

Greenpeace and New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity, with the help of other groups such as Advocates for Environmental Human Rights, Blue Vinyl and the Healthy Building Network (HBN), have completed a project that shows first-hand a low-cost solution to PVC in home building. We built a house that is both PVC-free and replicable for low-income families. The home has other green features and the construction was powered by our "Rolling Sunlight" vehicle. The house is located in New Orleans, about two miles from the French Quarter. It is adjacent to two other new Habitat houses.

A family of five now owns the home. Shylia Lewis is a single mother of four children, ranging from ages two to 12. Shylia formerly taught in the New Orleans Public Schools system, and now works at a document solutions company.

Visit our weblog for updates from the build site in New Orleans.
Habitat for Humanity - Collegiate ChallangeCitizens' Environmental CoalitionGulf Restoration NetworkSierra Club, New Orleans ChapterBaptist Seminary MissionTulane University - Green ClubTulane University - Urban SocietyLouisiana State University - Environmental Graduate OrganizationLousiana State University - Rotoract ClubXavier University - Habitat for Humanity ClubXavier University - Environmental Justice GroupBaton Rouge Community College

Shylia, Shawn, Steven, Sheldon and Serenity were living in what is known as the "Ninth Ward." This poverty-stricken community suffers from extreme hardships. There were holes in the walls of Shylia's house that lead to the outdoors, allowing for red ants to frequent her bathtub. The four children all shared one bedroom furnished with two bunk beds, and in the winter, the entire family slept in the front room by a heater.

Shylia and her children are thrilled to be chosen as a Habitat family.


Louisiana is home to some of the most toxic-producing industries on the planet: Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) production facilities. The toxics released into the environment by these facilities have turned Louisiana into a "polluter's paradise" -- a region so contaminated that the state's citizens are subjected to profound health and environmental damage.

The industrial corridor stretching from Baton Rouge south to New Orleans along the Mississippi River, commonly known as "Cancer Alley," is home to more than 140 petrochemical producers and users. This is one of the highest concentration of manufacturers, users and polluters of toxic chemicals in the United States.


Over the past few decades, PVC plastic has become one of the most widely-used types of plastics. It's used in packaging, home furnishings, children's toys, building materials, automobile parts and hundreds of other products. While several plastics pose serious threats to human health and the environment, few consumers realize that PVC is the single most environmentally-damaging of all plastics. The PVC lifecycle -- its production, use and disposal -- results in the release of toxic, chlorine-based chemicals. These toxics build up in the water, air and food chain. The result can be severe health problems like cancer, immune system damage and hormone disruption.

Environmental Injustice and the Industry

The effects of toxic chemical emissions does not stop at a facility's fenceline. Many polluting facilities and old dumpsites are located in poor communities, most often communities of color. People living next to these facilities are experiencing illnesses that they directly attribute to toxic air and water emissions. In some cases, entire communities have been relocated, such as Morrisonville next to Dow Chemical and Reveilletown next to Georgia Gulf.

EnvironDesign 8

Healthy Building Network has been invited to participate in this >national conference celebrating envrionmental stewardship and sustainable development. HBN will be displaying our materials on the newly completed PVC-Free Habitat for Humanity home this April.