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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 materials.

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:

• Cancer
• Endometriosis
• 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 community.

The Alternatives are Ready

Listed here is just a sample of the many PVC free options available:

• Piping
Cast iron, vitrified clay, and plastics such as cross-linked polyethylene and HDPE (High Density Polyethylene).

• Siding

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 nonchlorinated plastics.

• 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

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