Toxic Chemicals…What is Lurking in PVC?
Over the past few years the toxic chemical Bisphenol-A (BPA) has taken the limelight in the media and become the poster child for reducing the use and our exposure to toxic chemicals. Though wonderful in how it has worked in educating the general public on the dangers it poses, other toxic chemicals are still prevalent in the products we use every day that do not grab the attention of the media, chemicals such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC or commonly known as vinyl).
Why is PVC Considered Toxic?
PVC is not as readily understood by most in it’s toxic nature since it is not PVC the chemical, but the chemicals that are used for the creation of PVC as well as those that are harbored in PVC and released throughout it’s lifecycle that are toxic. Given all these chemicals together PVC can be considered the most toxic plastic on this planet.
Let’s start from the beginning. When PVC is created synthetic chemicals called dioxins are released. Dioxins are harmful to our immune systems and reproductive systems and are considered a carcinogen (i.e. they cause cancer), yet they are prevalent in PVC products due to the process it takes to create PVC. Dioxins are also released at the end of the plastic’s life cycle if it is burned, releasing them into the air we breath. Those that are not burned are put into landfills as PVC plastic can never be recycled, so dioxins are then released into our soil, water, and impact the environment we live in.
Do you know that “new shower curtain” smell? When you open a new shower curtain or rain coat made of PVC you get a smell from the PVC plastic used. And guess what? That offgassing never stops. Dioxins will be offgassed throughout the life of the product so you will be breathing them in every time you use the item. This is how prevalent this chemical is.
So is Dioxins it? Is that the only reason PVC is toxic? No, not quite. PVC often also has Mercury, lead, organotins, cadmium,VOCs, phthalates, and other metals inside it to give it the properties we are used to seeing with PVC plastic, such as bendability and pliability. Think rubber ducky, soft and pliable so you can squeeze it, which is often a desireable characteristic for many products it is used in. But with these latent hazards the risks outweigh the benefits.
One of the chemicals used to help make PVC pliable, phthalates, has it’s own toxicity issues. Phthalates are produced every year for use in everything from PVC to cosmetics and research says the harmful effects that may be remifications from their use include “Early puberty in girls, Premature delivery, Impaired sperm quality and sperm damage in men, Genital defects and reduced testosterone production in boys, Genital defects and testicular cancer” (Source: Environmental California). There has been a Nation Wide Ban on the use of phthalates in items marketed for children 12 and under in the Children’s Safe Products Act but this does not limit the amount of phthalates used in your normal household items.
Concerns of PVC Plastics, what can you do?
Many concerns lie with PVC use in common household products, but especially with products used for infant/child products and even those used in schools and other centers. Young children do not have the abilities adults have built up in our bodies to break down chemicals such as these since their livers are not fully functional until they are older, and chemicals such as dioxins accumulate in the body and build up over time (the half-life of dioxin molecules persist for 7-11 years according to the Center for Health, Environment, and Justice).
With links being made between the chemicals in PVC and concerns such as athsma, obesity, breast cancer, and learning disabilities like ADD, decreasing the use of PVC in our products and thus our exposure over our lifetime to the chemicals it harbors is a step many product companies and large companies (such as Target, Walmart, etc.) are taking. Some companies, however, still are not taking these steps, such as Toys R Us.
With the prevalence of PVC products in today’s economy and lack of available alternatives for the time being the greatest step you can take for your own heath and those of your family and friends is to reduce your exposure and make educated decisions when you purchase your products. Someone can’t do everything, but Everyone can do something.
If you are interested in information on BPA please see my compilation article “Bisphenol-A: Should It Be Banned?” in my Green Resource archives.
How to find PVC plastics in your home: HERE
Alternatives to PVC plastics are databased HERE
Not much has changed in the world in that many are still unaware of the dangers of PVC and how prevalent and damaging it can be to their health and their home. I realize many of the links I included as reliable resources when this post was written in 2011 are no longer available on the web (these links will now be deleted since they no longer are available), and so I will post links to articles below that you will find useful in referencing to PVC and what has been learned over the past couple years in relation to how it impacts our health and our environments. If you have any questions I will try my best to answer them! This article I wrote is still a good comprehensive way to learn the major issues with PVC to help you understand it in more simple terms, but if you require any further information or specific facts feel free to check out the links below and at the end of the article.
Interview with Mike (Head of the PVC campaign) at Center for Health Environment and Justice on How Dangerous is PVC in Toys
My #1 biggest concern regarding PVC is hormone disruption, if you have taken a Chemistry class in college this will make a lot of sense to you. Read more about PVC and hormone disruption in Taking Back Our Stolen Future via GreenPeace.
PVC Unhealthy for Our Children’s Heath and Schools (via Healthy Child Healthy World)
Center for Health, Environment, and Justice (Campaign to get PVC out of our children’s schools)
Healthy Building Network (Learn about PVC free building materials that are just as affordable and are safer for you!)