Reduce your use of PVC in plastics and other household products
February 22, 2013
From food packaging and children’s toys to shower curtains and building materials, PVC (aka: polyvinyl chloride or vinyl) is all around us. But, from both an environmental and health standpoint, PVC is the most toxic plastic.
Here’s why: Vinyl chloride, the chemical used to make PVC, is a known human carcinogen, according to the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Workers in PVC manufacturing facilities and residents of surrounding communities are at risk from exposure to these chemicals which contaminate the water, soil and air around these facilities.
The manufacture and incineration of PVC also creates and releases dioxins, which cause a wide range of health effects including cancer, birth defects, diabetes, learning and developmental delays, endometriosis, and immune system abnormalities. One type of dioxin is the most potent carcinogen ever tested. It’s nasty stuff.
What happens to those dioxins once they’re released? They end up in the food that animals eat; they accumulate in animal fats; and then they end up accumulating in human fat as we eat the meat and dairy products from the animals. In fact, food accounts for 95 percent of human exposure to dioxin.
In addition to the incredibly toxic pollution PVC creates, it also commonly has toxic additives, so it’s impacting your health just through everyday use.
Here’s a snapshot of facts:
- One PVC shower curtain can release as many as 108 volatile organic chemicals into the air. Some of these chemicals can cause developmental damage as well as damage to the liver and central nervous, respiratory, and reproductive systems. (CHEJ)
- The phthalate DEHP is often added to PVC to make it flexible. Traces of these chemicals can leach out of PVC when in contact with foods or if your baby mouths them.
- According to the National Institutes of Health, di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), is a suspected human carcinogen.
- Lead is used as a stabilizer in PVC and while it’s somewhat regulated in products made in the U.S., imported PVC products can have disturbingly high lead levels. (One study found levels 30 to 100 times higher than the federal limit for lead in all children’s items.)
Just say “No” to PVC
The only way to avoid PVC is to identify it first! On packaging, look for the #3 or the letters “PVC,” often found next to the three-arrow “recycling” symbol. For other PVC products, you’ll have to contact the manufacturer. Fortunately, some companies are changing their ways. For example, IKEA is no longer using PVC in the manufacture of their furniture, wall coverings and textiles.
It may seem that we cannot get along without PVC these days, but in almost all cases, alternatives exist.
Refer to the Center for Health, Environment and Justice for an extensive list of common PVC products and safer alternatives.