Ten Reasons to Avoid PVC Plastic
1. Hazardous Production
Making polyvinyl chloride plastic (also known as PVC or vinyl) requires cancer-causing chemicals. The use of these raw materials, ethylene dichloride (EDC), vinyl chloride monomer (VCM), produces high volumes of hazardous waste that contaminate the air, land and water surrounding these factories.
Also inherent in the production of PVC is the creation of extremely toxic byproducts such as dioxin, PCBs and hexachlorobenzene (HCB). All of these substances have been targeted for elimination by the Stockholm Convention, which has been signed by more than 100 nations, including the U.S.
2. Environmental Racism
Louisiana has the highest concentration of vinyl factories in the U.S. Most of these facilities are located near low-income and predominantly African American communities. The pollution from these factories disproportionately threatens the health and environment of nearby residents, and entire towns have been displaced by the vinyl industry because of groundwater contamination and other hazards.
In 1998, such concerns enabled community groups to stop Shintech from building a $700 million PVC facility in Convent, La. This facility would have produced 1.1 billion pounds of PVC and emitted 611,000 pounds of toxic air pollutants per year. More than 80 percent of the population of Convent is African American and 40% live below the poverty line.
A 1999 study conducted in Mossville, La. showed that dioxin levels in the soil were 50 percent higher than the U.S. average and concentrations in the blood of Mossville residents were more than three times higher than in a comparison group. Mossville is an impoverished community located next to several vinyl chloride factories.
3. Toxic Additives
PVC requires more toxic additives than any other plastic. These include heavy metals such as lead and organotins to stabilize PVC, chromium and cadmium to color it, and plasticizers such as phthalates to make it flexible.
The production of thousands of PVC products ranging from carpeting and wall covering to toys and medical products at hundreds of formulation facilities around the U.S. exposes thousands more workers and residents to these additives and byproducts.
Many of these toxic additives can be released from PVC products when they are used or handled by consumers.
4. Catastrophic Accidents
VCM and PVC facilities in Louisiana have submitted chemical disaster scenarios to the EPA showing that just one of their facilities can threaten hundreds of thousands of workers and area residents. An explosion or gas leak could easily cause a disaster on the scale of the Bhopal, India catastrophe of 1984, in which 8,000 people died in just three days following a toxic gas leak at a pesticide plant.
5. Terrorist Targets
The FBI and other security experts have identified U.S. chemical plants as among the most vulnerable terrorist targets. Stockpiles of chemicals such as chlorine used at PVC facilities represent potential weapons of mass destruction. Higher fences and more security guards do not remove the inherent threat that these toxic chemicals pose to surrounding communities.
The FBI has also identified vehicles, particularly rail cars, carrying these chemicals as another vulnerable terrorist target.
6. Dangerous Cargo
Transport of dangerous chemicals pose a moving threat, whether by a deliberate act of sabotage or by an accident. Truck and train accidents are frequent, and a .50-caliber rifle can pierce the side of a 90-ton rail car. Trains carry the largest quantities of hazardous cargo. The most common high population (one million or more) disaster scenario submitted to the EPA involves 90-ton rail cars of chlorine.
7. No Safe Use
Toxic additives easily migrate from PVC products to consumers, children and even hospital patients using these products.
Accidental fires involving PVC products release deadly hydrogen chloride gas that kills building occupants and endangers fire fighters even before smoke or fire is visible.
A vinyl wall covering's ability to contain moisture has been identified as a major cause of mold and mildew in home interiors. Some molds are toxic, representing a serious health threat.
8. Unsafe Disposal
PVC waste in municipal and medical waste incinerators is one of the largest sources of dioxin according to the EPA. When burned, toxic additives in PVC can also be released.
The EPA has identified municipal landfill fires as another large source of dioxin and PVC is also the largest single source of dioxin in this waste. Toxic additives released from PVC waste can also contaminate groundwater below landfills.
The EPA has also singled out open burning of trash in rural areas as another significant source of dioxin. Tests of these fires show that higher levels of dioxin correspond to higher levels of PVC plastic in the waste.
9. Problematic Recycling
The rate of plastic recycling in general is very low. But the rate of PVC plastic recycling is even lower. Less than one percent of PVC plastic is recycled, making it the least recycled of all plastics. PVC cannot easily be mixed with other plastics for recycling because it releases toxic additives when melted down.
10. Safer Cost-Effective Alternatives Are Widely Available
All uses of PVC have safer alternatives that are widely available and at increasingly competitive prices. Approximately 70 percent of all PVC is used in construction materials such as siding, piping, flooring and wall covering. All of these uses have safer alternatives ranging from sustainably harvested wood to cement, metal and modern plastics that are made without chlorine or petrochemicals such as bio-polymers now being produced by Cargill Dow. For a list of alternatives worldwide, check out http://archive.greenpeace.org/toxics/pvcdatabase/