What is PVC?

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is a thermoplastic polymer of vinyl chloride. PVC resin is hard, unless plasticizers are added making them a flexible plastic. Toxic additives used to produce PVC include Dioxins and Phthalates. Dioxin has been identified as a carcinogen that can affect immune, endocrine, reproductive, and neurological systems. Phthalates are responsible for giving PVC its flexibility and have been associated with an increased risk of disorders with reproductive systems and development, increased risk of liver and Kidney damage, or even cancer.

How does it affect us?

The Center for Health, Environment and Justice states the following:
“PVC is the most toxic plastic for our health and environment. No other plastic contains or releases as many dangerous chemicals. These include dioxins, phthalates, vinyl chloride, ethylene dichloride, lead, cadmium, and organotins. There’s no safe way to manufacture, use or dispose of PVC products.”

The center for Health, Environment and Justice reports that the toxic chemicals released by the PVC cycle includes the endocrine disrupting phthalates and dioxins and may be the cause of:

“Asthma, Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), testicular cancer in young men, hypospadias (abnormal positioning of the opening of the urethra on the penis), and reproductive harm including: fertility problems, miscarriages, preterm births, early puberty, decreased sperm count and birth defects.”
    Earth 911 lists the full effects of PVC on us and our environment:
  • Significant quantities of hazardous, chlorine-derived wastes are generated throughout the life cycle of PVC and released into the environment.
  • Due to its chlorinated makeup, the entire life cycle of vinyl is responsible for the formation of more dioxin than any other single product.
  • Chlorine production for PVC results in the release of more than 200,000 pounds of mercury into air, water and land each year.
  • To make vinyl products flexible, controversial plasticizers known as phthalates are used, accounting for nearly 90 percent of total phthalate consumption. This translates into more than 5 million tons used for vinyl every year.
  • Lead is often added to vinyl construction products as a stabilizer to extend its life. It is estimated that 45,000 tons of lead are released each year into the environment during its disposal by incineration.

Who is at risk?

Women of child-bearing age, or who are pregnant, infants, and children are at the highest risk.

They are more at risk because a pregnant woman’s exposure to chemicals can be passed on to a fetus in the womb. Chemicals can also be passed on through breast milk. Since children breathe, eat and drink more than adults do (with respect to their weight), pound for pound they would be taking in a greater amount of harmful contaminants. Also, children tend to have a lot of hand to mouth movement which may cause them to ingest chemicals from toys and through the dust and dirt on the ground.

Where PVC is found

PVC can be found in consumer products or packaging materials. Look for the # 3 recycling code or for the letter “V” inside the recycling symbol to identify if the product is made of PVC. Not all products and containers are labeled and in this case you may want to contact the manufacturer to ask them about the materials used in their product or packaging. Usually the soft flexible plastic products made with PVC have a distinct odor.

PVC is typically found in plastic lined bibs, backpacks with PVC coating for waterproofing, diaper covers, raincoats, cleaning product containers, shower curtains, cling wrap, mattress covers, toys, inflatable toys and mattresses, and bath toys.

How to avoid it

The effects of PVC can be very harmful and damaging. Here are some tips on how to avoid PVC:
  • Avoid products that are labeled with the # 3 recycling code or the letter “V” inside the recycling symbol to identify if the product is made of PVC. Note: Even though vinyl is a component of PVC, not all products that have vinyl in the name are harmful including: ethylene vinyl Acetate (EVA) and polyethylene Vinyl Acetate (PEVA): which are safer plastics.
  • Even though some manufacturers of PVC have switched to being phthalate-free, it’s best to still avoid them.
  • Always choose toys and feeding gear that are labeled to be BPA, Phthalate, and PVC free. (If they are not labeled, call and ask the manufacturer to be sure they are safe for your children.)
  • If you have vinyl flooring, take a damp mop and wipe the floor frequently to remove the dust to help prevent exposure to phthalates.