PVC as a Toxin

PVC (polyvinyl chloride) is a great example of the toxicity of everyday materials all around us. PVC is practically a miracle material. It is a “thermoplastic polymer” derived from fossil fuel that produces incredibly flexible, durable, and versatile plastic. It can be made into a hard plastic (like vinyl siding or plumbing) or a soft, supple plastic (like plastic watchbands) when phthalates and other substances are added. In addition, it is one of the only plastics that re­mains durable and flexible when clear. It’s also relatively inexpensive, making it a favorite of manufacturers of all kinds of products.

One of the concerns with PVC is that additives (like phthalates) can leach out of the plastic and into food and bodies (through the skin). This is of enough concern that both the U. S. and EU have banned many forms of PVC ad­ditives for products like toys (for both children and adults).[48] However, any toxicity of PVC in products pales in comparison to the toxicity created during manufacturing (to both work­ers and the environment). For over 40 years, scientists have been studying the links between PVC and its related forms, ethyl dichloride (EDC) and vinyl chloride monomer (VCM), in manufacturing and the risks of rare diseases for workers in these industries. In addition, PVC production produces dioxin, another dangerous and persistent chemical, which spreads far distances in the environment.

While new processes are being developed to produce and recycle PVC more effectively, it remains one of the worst materials commonly used in product manufacturing by quite a margin.

The problem for designers is that it is often difficult to substitute other materials for some of the uses that PVC excels in. While it’s fairly easy to find substitute materials for PVC’s hard plastic forms (though many are more expen­sive), when designers want soft, clear, or flex­ible plastic (such as for watchbands and cloth­ing), there are few materials that can take its place—especially at a comparable price. While this may change in the future with new materi­als and processes, designers can, at least, only specify PVC when absolutely necessary. They can also minimize the amount of PVC used in an application to further reduce the amount of toxins released in the environment or that come into contact with customers.

The problem for designers is that it is often difficult to substitute other ma­terials for some of the uses that PVC excels in. [49] [50]

• Ingeo (a new corn-based polymer from Na – tureWorks) [51]