Toxic Tuesdays

CHEJ highlights several toxic chemicals and the communities fighting to keep their citizens safe from harm.

Polyvinyl Chloride

Polyvinyl chloride, commonly known as “PVC” or “vinyl,” is the second largest commodity plastic in production in the world today, with an estimated 48.8 million tons produced worldwide in 2018. PVC is used in a wide range of products including pipes and tubing, school materials, product packaging, children’s toys, and several building materials.

PVC can safely be considered the worst plastic for our health and environment, as it releases dangerous chemicals that can cause cancer and other serious health effects from manufacture to disposal. The first problematic chemicals that can leach out of PVC products is phthalates. These are a group of industrial chemicals that are added to PVC to promote plasticity and flexibility. Because they are not chemically bound to PVC, these chemicals can leach out due to heat, pressure or simply time. Once they are out in the environment, they can enter our bodies and cause adverse health conditions such as hormone disruption, birth defects, infertility and asthma. Lead is another chemical that is commonly found in PVC. Lead exposure is especially dangerous for growing children, who can suffer from nervous system development problems and learning disabilities.

Aside from direct exposure to PVC, the manufacturing and disposal process of PVC can release harmful chemicals called dioxins. Dioxins are formed and released when PVC is burned (during disposal) or manufactured under high heat and pressure. They are a highly toxic group of chemicals that build up in the food chain, cause cancer and can harm the immune and reproductive systems. Their toxicity is of such concern that they have been targeted for global phase out by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.

As mentioned previously, exposure to PVC through everyday consumer products can be significant. Children’s toys can be substantially bad offenders, although CHEJ’s PVC campaign of the late 2000s made a difference in removing a lot of PVC from the toy market. Other items that remain problematic are children’s backpacks, shower curtains, rain boots, raincoats, vinyl flooring and roofing, plastic food containers, and pet toys.

CHEJ helped develop a resolution from the American Public Health Association (APHA) – a policy statement that has the full backing of the organization – back in 2011. CHEJ was instrumental in convincing the APHA to endorse reducing PVC in facilities with vulnerable populations such as nursing homes and hospitals. This was a monumental statement from the premier public health organization in the country about the dangers of PVC.

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