Polyvinyl chloride, commonly known as "PVC" or "vinyl,"
is one of the most common synthetic materials. PVC is a versatile
resin and appears in thousands of different formulations and configurations.
Among plastics, PVC is second in quantity used only to polyethylene.
Approximately 75% of all PVC manufactured is used in construction
PVC is the worst plastic from an environmental health perspective,
posing great environmental and health hazards in its manufacture,
product life and disposal.
Toxic Manufacturing Byproducts: Dioxin
(the most potent carcinogen known to science), hydrochloric acid
and vinyl chloride are unavoidably created in production of PVC
and can cause severe health problems:
• Neurological damage
• Immune system damage
• Respiratory problems
• Liver and kidney failure
• Birth defects
In the U.S., PVC is predominately manufactured near low-income
communities in Texas and Louisiana. The toxic impact of pollution
from these factories on these communities has made them front
line struggles in the environmental justice movement.
Global Impact: Dioxinís impact
doesn't stop there. As a persistent bioaccumulative toxin (PBT),
it does not breakdown rapidly and travels around the globe, accumulating
in fatty tissue and concentrating as it goes up the food chain.
Dioxins from Louisiana manufacturing plants migrate on the winds
and concentrate in Great Lakes fish. Dioxins
are even found in hazardous concentrations in the tissues of whales
and arctic polar bears. The dioxin exposure of the average American
already poses a calculated risk of somewhere between 1 in 100
to 1 in 1,000 - thousands of times greater than the usual standard
for acceptable risk. Most poignantly, Dioxins concentrate in breast
milk to the point that human infants now receive high doses, orders
of magnitude greater than those of the average adult.
Lethal Additives: PVC is useless
without the addition of a plethora of toxic chemical stabilizers
- such as lead and cadmium - and phthalate plasticizers. These
leach, flake or outgas from the PVC over time raising risks from
asthma to lead poisoning as well as cancer.
Deadly Fire Hazard: PVC poses a
great risk in waste incineration and building fires, as it releases
deadly gases such as hydrogen chloride long before it ignites.
As it burns, it leaves behind toxic dioxin waste.
Can't Be Readily Recycled: The multitudes
of additives required to make PVC useful make recycling on any
significant scale nearly impossible and interfere with the recycling
of other plastics. This led the Association of Post Consumer Plastics
Recyclers to declare it a contaminant in 1998.
Widespread in the Construction Industry:
While the many problems associated with PVC throughout its lifecycle
far outweigh the minimal benefits, the construction industry has
been unaware of its true cost and long considered it a cheap wonder
material. Piping, vinyl siding, and vinyl flooring are the largest
and most familiar uses of PVC. Roof membranes are another growing
area. It also shows up in electrical wire, conduit, junction boxes,
wall coverings, carpet fibers and backing, windows, door frames,
shades and blinds, shower curtains, furniture, flues, gutters,
down spouts, waterstops, weatherstrip, flashing, moldings and
elsewhere. Fortunately, for each of these uses, there exists a
wide range of cost effective alternative materials that pose less
of a health hazard than does PVC to both workers and the larger
Listed here is just a sample of the many
PVC free options available:
Cast iron, vitrified clay, and plastics such as cross-linked polyethylene
and HDPE (High Density Polyethylene).
Fiber-cement board, stucco, recycled or reclaimed or FSC certified
sustainably harvested wood, polypropylene and acrylic.
• Roofing Membranes
TPO (Thermoplastic polyolefin) and EPDM (ethylene propylene diene
monomer) membranes, low-slope metal roofing.
• Flooring & Carpet
Natural linoleum, bamboo, ceramic tile, carpeting with natural
fiber backing, recycled or reclaimed or FSC certified sustainably
harvested wood, cork, rubber, concrete slab, Stratica and other
• Wall Coverings & Furniture
Natural fibers (wood, wool, etc), polyethylene, polyester, paint.
• Electrical Insulation and Sheathing
Halogen free, linear low-density polyethylene (LLDPE), thermoset
crosslinked polyethylene (XLPE)
• Windows & Doors
Recycled or reclaimed or FSC certified sustainable harvested wood,
fiberglass, and aluminum. Even for the average consumer, shower
curtains do not have to be made of vinyl! For Charts of PVC free
building materials and more information on the hazards of PVC,
including a review of the science visit: www.healthybuilding.net