New Study: Vinyl – the Most Widely Used “Hazardous” Plastic

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A new study by researchers at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden ranked the environmental health hazards of the most common plastics on the market.  The conclusion?  Researchers ranked PVC as the most widely used “hazardous” plastic and found that, “PVC should receive extra attention because of its carcinogenic monomer, being the third largest plastic, and requiring the most and often several hazardous additives.”

The researchers also found that:

” Of the polymers ranked as most hazardous, PVC, is by far the most used one, being the third largest plastic type with a global annual production of 37 million tonnes .”

” PVC requires by far the most additives of all plastics types, alone accounting for 73% of the world production of additives by volume…”

” The polymers ranked as the most hazardous ones are made of monomers classified as either carcinogenic or both carcinogenic and mutagenic (category 1A or 1B). These belong to the polymer families of polyurethanes, polyacrylonitriles, polyvinyl chloride, epoxy resins, and styrenic copolymers (ABS, SAN and HIPS).”

73% of the world’s production of additives by volume!  The most widely used hazardous plastic!   Ouch vinyl industry!

A comprehensive evaluation of 55 plastics.

The researchers studied 55 plastic polymers and developed a “hazard ranking model” to compare them all.  For example, the authors looked at whether or not the chemicals used to make the plastics are considered to be carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic for reproduction (CMR’s), and are persistent bioaccumulative toxic (PBT’s), etc.  The researchers also looked at whether plastics contain endocrine disruptors, such as DEHP and the other phthalates commonly found in vinyl products such as flooring in our nation’s schools and hospitals.

There are of course gaps in the study.  For example they didn’t appear to take enough of a look at the PVC industry’s growing use of mercury and coal in China to make the plastic, and also PVC’s leading contribution to dioxin across the world.  That’s a key reason why the US Green Building Council concluded in their evaluation of PVC that “When we add end-of-life with accidental landfill fires and backyard burning, the additional risk of dioxin emissions puts PVC consistently among the worst materials for human health impacts…”

Not the first, won’t be the last.

This comes as no surprise to us here at CHEJ, as we’ve been sounding the alarm on PVC’s hazardous lifecycle and chemicals for years now.  This isn’t the first study to find PVC one of the most hazardous plastics, and we highly doubt it will be the last.  A study published last year by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh evaluating 12 different common plastics ranked PVC at the bottom in terms of green design and life cycle assessment.

The good news is there’s safer alternatives.  Check out our new Guide to PVC-free School and Office Supplies to find safer products for your school.