- About us
- Be Safe
- Children’s Environmental Health Program
- Prevent Fracking Harms
- Focus on Schools
- Table of Contents
- Acknowledgements & About CHEJ
- Starting Your Campaign
- Organizing an Effective Campaign
- Building Your Campaign to Win
- Winning and Implementing Your Policy
- Sample One-Year Campaign Timeframe
- Top Ten Reasons for Your University to Go PVC-Free
- Sample University Policy to Reduce and Phase Out PVC
- Sample Student or Faculty Resolution on Phasing Out PVC
- Resources To Win
Top Ten Reasons for Your University to Go PVC-Free
Top Ten Reasons for Your University to Go PVC-Free
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC or vinyl) plastic poses serious environmental and health threats at all stages of its lifecycle: from manufacturing to use to disposal. Here are the top ten reasons your college/university should go PVC-free and build or renovate with PVC-free building materials.
1. PVC and Environmental Justice: PVC Plants Pollutes the Air and Groundwater of Surrounding Communities
PVC chemical plants are often located in or near low-income neighborhoods and communities of color, such as Mossville, Louisiana, making the production of PVC a major environmental justice concern. PVC manufacturing facilities have poisoned workers and fenceline neighbors, polluted the air, contaminated drinking water supplies, and even wiped entire neighborhoods off the map. Reveilletown, Louisiana was once a small African-American town adjacent to a PVC facility owned by Georgia-Gulf. In the 1980s, after a groundwater toxic plume of vinyl chloride began to seep under homes, Georgia-Gulf agreed to permanently evacuate the entire community of one hundred and six residentsi . In Pottstown, Pennsylvania, chemical waste dumped in lagoons at the OxyChem PVC plant contaminated groundwater and is now targeted for cleanup under the federal Superfund programii . In Point Comfort, Texas, vinyl chloride was discovered in wells near a Formosa PVC chemical plant, and the company had to spend one million dollars cleaning up contaminated groundwateriii .
2. The Production of PVC Involves Cancer-Causing Chemicals
PVC products are made from toxic chemicals. Three chemicals are at the core of PVC production: chlorine gas is converted into ethylene dichloride (EDC), which is then converted into vinyl chloride monomer (VCM), which is then converted into PVCiv . Both VCM and EDC are extremely hazardous. Vinyl chloride, the key building block of PVC, causes a rare form of liver cancer, and damages the liver and central nervous systemv . Vinyl chloride is one of the few chemicals the U.S. EPA classifies as a known human carcinogenvi . EDC is a probable human carcinogen that also affects the central nervous system and damages the livervii .
PVC-Free Governmental Purchasing Policies
A number of U.S. cities have passed procurement policies to phase out the purchase of products such as PVC that contribute to dangerous toxic pollution. In December, 2005, New York City passed legislation that will reduce the City’s purchase of PVC, wielding its $11 billion annual purchasing budget to drive markets for safer, environmentally friendly products. Other U.S. cities such as Boston, Seattle, San Francisco, and Buffalo have passed similar purchasing measures.
3. PVC Products Contain Phthalates & Other Toxic Chemicals
PVC products often contain toxic additives such as phthalates, lead and cadmiumviii . Many of these additives are not chemically bound to the plastic and can migrate out of the product posing potential hazards to consumersix . In some cases, these additives can be released from the product into the air inside your homex ,xi ,xii . Some phthalates have been linked to reproductive problems including shorter pregnancy durationxiii , premature breast development in girlsxiv , sperm damagexv , and impaired reproductive development in malesxvi . Certain phthalates have now been banned in children’s toys in the United States effective February 2009xvii . Lead has been used to stabilize and is found in many different PVC productsxviii . PVC flooring and other PVC products can contribute to poorer indoor air quality as PVC products can offgas chemicals called volatile organic compounds (VOCs). A study by the California Air Resources Board found forty chemicals, some of which are toxic, off-gassing from PVC flooringxix . Another study found PVC flooring can emit chemicals for a period of at least nine months, indicating a persistent risk of toxic exposurexx . A study of PVC shower curtains found just one new vinyl shower curtain can release 108 VOCs into the air over a 28-day period. The EPA classifies a number of the chemicals as hazardous air pollutants, and even worse, many are untestedxxi .
4. PVC, Asthma and Autism – Are Students, Teachers, and Custodians at Risk?
Asthma is a serious, sometimes life-threatening respiratory disease that affects 7 million American children and 16 million adultsxxii . An average of one out of every 13 school-age children has asthma. In fact, asthma is a leading cause of school absenteeism: 14.7 million school days are missed each year due to asthmaxxiii . In recent years, a number of studies have found a correlation between phthalates emitted from PVC building products and asthma:
- A study published in 2009 found a statistically significant link between PVC flooring, asthma , and autism spectrum disorder. The study found that children who live in homes with vinyl floors, which can emit phthalates, are twice as likely to have autismxxiv .
- A 2008 study found an association between concentrations of phthalates in indoor dust and wheezing among preschool children. The presence of PVC flooring in the child’s bedroom was the strongest predictor of respiratory ailmentsxxv .
- A study of 10,851 children found the presence of floor moisture and PVC significantly increased the risk of asthmaxxvi .
- A study among personnel in four geriatric hospitals found asthma symptoms were more common in the two buildings with signs of phthalate degradation in PVC flooringxxvii .
- A study of workers in an office building found they were diagnosed with adult-onset asthma at a rate of about 9 times higher than expected. The researchers identified PVC flooring as the source of chemicals, such as 2-ethyl-l-hexanol, l-butanol, in the airxxviii .
- A study of adults working in rooms with plastic wall covering materials were more than twice as likely to develop asthma. These researchers pointed to other recent epidemiologic studies in children conducted in Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Russia that also found links between PVC, phthalates, and respiratory problemsxxix.
Some of the biggest corporations in the world have recognized the dangers of PVC’s lifecycle and have adopted policies to reduce or phase out PVC. These include:
- Sears and Kmart
- and many more!
5. PVC and Hazardous Chemicals in Our Bodies
In recent years, a growing body of scientific evidence has found that toxic chemicals released by the PVC lifecycle are trespassing into our bodies.
- Today babies are being born pre-polluted with potentially harmful levels of phthalatesxxx and Dioxinsxxxi that may possibly cause lifelong health problems.
- Phthalates have been found in indoor air and dust, and in human urine, blood and breast milkxxxii .
- An extensive study of 2,500 individuals found metabolites of at least one phthalate in 97 percent of those testedxxxiii.
- Phthalates are highest in children ages 6 to 11, and in womenxxxiv. In a more recent study, certain phthalates were found to be present in 100% of girls age 6 to 9xxxv .
- Dioxins build up in our bodies over our lifetime and can remain there for many years. The levels of dioxins in our bodies are at or near the levels known to cause harmxxxvi .
- The half-life of dioxin (the amount of time it takes for half of a given amount of dioxin to break down) in people ranges from seven to eleven yearsxxxvii .
- Infants can be exposed to both phthalatesxxxviii and Dioxinsxxxix in breast milk. However despite these exposures, breast milk is still best for babyxl .
6. PVC Flooring and Unhealthy Cleaning Products
PVC flooring often requires the use of toxic cleaners to keep it durable and shiny. This wax and strip maintenance has long been a source of health concern due to the toxic VOCs such as formaldehyde (a known carcinogen) used in the maintenance products. A life cycle study of flooring installation and maintenance found that the amount of VOCs emitted from a single waxing of a floor may be comparable to the amount of VOCs emitted from the flooring itself over its entire life. While some PVC manufacturers have formulated “no wax” finishes for some of their flooring products, many PVC flooring products still require the use of toxic maintenance productsxli .
7. PVC and Dioxins
The formation of dioxin is a major concern in PVC’s lifecycle. When PVC is manufactured or burned as a waste material, or accidentally in landfill fires, burn barrels, accidental building and motor vehicle fires, numerous dioxins are formed and released into the air or water. The term ‘dioxin’ refers to a family of chemicals that are unintentionally made – they were the main contaminants in Agent Orange. They are generated as by-products during production and disposal of chlorinated compounds including PVC. Dioxins are a highly toxic group of chemicals that build up in the food chain, cause cancer and can harm the immune and reproductive systemsxlii ,xliii ,xliv . The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants has targeted dioxins for global phase outxlv . Dioxins have also been targeted for virtual elimination in the Great Lakes through the U.S. and Canadian Great Lakes Binational Toxics Strategyxlvi .
8. Dumping PVC in Landfills Leaches Chemicals and Forms Dioxins
The land disposal of PVC product waste, especially flexible materials, also poses environmental and public health risks. As flexible PVC degrades in a landfill, toxic additives leach out of the waste into groundwater, which is especially problematic for unlined landfillsxlvii ,xlviii ,xlix ,l . These additives also contribute to the formation of landfill gasesli , which are formed in municipal waste landfillslii ,liii . In addition, there are over 8,400 landfill fires reported every year in the U.S.liv . These fires burn PVC waste and contribute to dioxin formationlv . Land disposal is the final fate of between 2 and 4 billion pounds of PVC that are discarded every year at some 1,800 municipal waste landfills in the U.S.lvi .
9. PVC Contaminates and Ruins Recyclable Plastics
PVC packaging has a national recycling rate far lower than other plastics. Just 0.7% of PVC bottles were recycled in 2006, compared to 23.5% for PET plastic bottles and 26.4% for HDPE bottleslvii . According to the Association of Postconsumer Plastics Recyclers, “PVC is a major contaminant to the PET bottle recycling stream.”lviii . One PVC bottle can contaminate and ruin a recycling load of 100,000 recyclable PET bottleslix , if the PVC cannot be separated from the PET. This is because PET and PVC behave very differently when they are processed for recycling. PVC burns at a lower temperature than PET. It burns at the temperature that simply melts PETlx ,lxi . When this occurs, “black spots” get into the PET resin contaminating the batch and ruining or seriously downgrading the quality of recycled PET residuelxii .
Nationwide Bans on PVC
Sweden first proposed restrictions on PVC use in 1995 and is working toward discontinuing all PVC uses. In Spain, over 60 cities have been declared PVC-free. Germany has banned the disposal of PVC in landfills as of 2005, is minimizing the incineration of PVC, and is encouraging the phase out of PVC products that cannot easily be recycled. Since 1986, at least 274 communities in Germany have enacted restrictions against PVC.
10. Your University & the PVC Chemical Industry
PVC is found in many building materials and other products in universities including:
- Electronics such as desktop computers and laptops;
- Shower Curtains;
- Office supplies such as binders, paperclips;
- School supplies such as 3-ring binders, backpacks, and raincoats;
Your university likely spends millions of dollars in procurement of PVC building materials, school and office supplies every year. This money is unfortunately fueling the environmental contamination of PVC production and disposal communities across the world.
The good news is there are plenty of safer and cost-effective alternatives on the market. Your university has an opportunity to demonstrate its environmental leadership by adopting a PVC-free procurement policy – to reduce and phase out the purchase of PVC building materials, school and office supplies where healthier affordable products are available.
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