The additives are not chemically bonded to the PVC polymer but are merely mixed into the plastic during its formulation. Over time, they leach out of vinyl products, entering the air, water or other liquids with which the product comes in contact.
Studies show that some toxins in plastics are building up in humans and that some of us may be experiencing serious health effects as a result.
Besides that, toxic manufacturing byproducts like dioxin (the most potent carcinogen known to science), hydrochloric acid and vinyl chloride are unavoidably created in the production of PVC and can cause severe health problems like cancer, endometriosis, neurological damage, immune system damage, respiratory problems, liver and kidney failure, and birth defects.
The chemical substances produced by PVC during its entire lifecycle are already present in global, local, and workplace environments at unacceptably high levels. Yet there is little public awareness of its adverse health and environmental effects.
PVC is an unnecessary toxic plastic. Although found in a wide variety of products — from food packaging to children’s toys, plumbing and building materials to medical devices — in every case alternatives to it exist.
Here’s what you should know about PVC, a largely unrealised public health menace.
PVC: The Poison Plastic
EVER wondered why your new car; plastic shower cap, curtain or tote bag; or your baby’s new toy has an offensive smell for days, even months? There’s more to that “new” smell than you think. That whiff of bad air you get is from PVC (polyvinyl chloride) — one of the most hazardous consumer products ever created on earth — which is present in these and many other consumer products we use daily.
PVC products stink because they contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These are poisonous carbon-containing chemicals that are volatile enough to evaporate at room temperature. This process, called outgassing, is also a problem with building products such as plywood, particleboard, carpet and pads, paints, stains and glues.
Outgassing odours are most noticeable when products are new, but diminish over time until they finally disappear. A shower curtain can outgas for a month or longer, for example, depending on conditions. High temperature and humidity will speed up the release of VOCs.
VOCs can be toxic. Most commonly they irritate eyes, noses and throats, causing coughing, headaches, dizziness and nausea. The symptoms go away when outgassing ceases.
But the danger doesn’t stop there. Did you know: From the time it is manufactured right up to its disposal, PVC keeps on releasing dangerous chemicals that can cause cancer, making it the worst plastic for our health and the environment.
What is PVC?
Polyvinyl chloride, commonly known as PVC or vinyl, is one of the most common synthetic materials. It’s widely used in construction materials (eg: pipes and fittings, windows, flooring, fencing, decking, roofing, wall coverings, wire and cable products), transport and packaging materials, medical supplies, and consumer products (eg: credit cards and toys).
PVC use has grown rapidly since World War II, when it gained popularity as a rubber substitute. PVC is presently the second most widely used plastic in the world. And it’s one of today’s most dangerous toxic offenders. It cannot be recycled, and it is considered by many experts to be the most dangerous, carcinogenic plastic ever created by man.
Why It’s Dangerous
PVC is dangerous to human health and the environment throughout its entire life cycle — at the factory, in our homes, and in the trash.? Its manufacture, product life and disposal all pose great environmental and health hazards.
The dangers of PVC are from the persistent pollutants it releases and the toxic additives used to produce PVC products.
What it contains: PVC is the only common plastic that contains chlorine. Although the plastics industry likes to point out that chlorine comes from ordinary salt, chlorine is actually listed by the US federal government as an “extremely hazardous substance”. Vinyl chloride, the building block of PVC, can cause cancer in humans, according to the US government’s National Toxicology Program.
PVC products also often contain dangerous toxic additives such as mercury, dioxins, lead and phthalates (used as softeners) which can leach out and pose dangers to consumers.
Lead, for example, can damage the brain and nervous system and cause behaviour, learning and developmental disabilities.
Phthalates are additives widely used in the production of PVC to make it soft and flexible. Phthalates have been associated with an increased risk of cancer and kidney and liver damage.
Exposure to phthalates has also been linked with premature births, early puberty in girls, impaired sperm quality and sperm damage in men, genital defects, and reduced testosterone production in boys.
Many of the chemicals are thought to interfere with the reproductive system and development.
When produced or burned, PVC plastic releases dioxins, a group of the most potent synthetic chemicals ever tested, which can cause cancer (dioxin is the most potent carcinogen known to science) and harm the immune and reproductive systems.
Dioxins are extremely long-lived in the environment, and, because they are fat-soluble, they concentrate in the tissues of humans and other species.
When used, PVC products pose health risks. Many of the toxic additives in PVC can be released from PVC products when they are used or handled by consumers. PVC products also release toxic fumes if they catch fire.
The vast majority of PVC manufactured is used in the production of building materials, however it’s also used in many other consumer products such as children’s toys, baby’s shampoo bottles, office supplies and packaging and thousands of other products, including medical products.
A Persistent Threat
PVC harms all who come in contact with it — from workers making the products, communities located near PVC manufacturing plants, and consumers purchasing them, and to those living near landfills and incinerators where the products are discarded.
PVC uses and releases highly hazardous chemicals including vinyl chloride, dioxins, mercury, phthalates, and other chemicals that have been linked to deterioration of the central nervous system, liver damage, reproductive harm, and certain cancers.
- Health threats from PVC additives
- How they harm
- A public health menace surrounding us
- How to avoid PVC