What's so vile about vinyl?

Vinyl for Life
CC BY 2.0 Lloyd Alter at Greenbuild

If you go to the website Vinyl, The Material for Life, you will find right on the front page, Vinyl Advocates Lobby For Open Consensus Standards In Ohio. They are campaigning to ban the use of LEED certification in government buildings. An industry association President claims that “LEED v4 has provisions that threaten my members’ products – those being familiar, reliable, high quality windows and doors. The unproven provisions within LEED v4 unfairly tag many of these products as unhealthy.” Ohio is just one of the governments that they are going after in their nationwide campaign to discredit LEED.

If you talk to the industry about safety and health, they will tell you that it is made from common salt. They say that they are committed to "provide information on health or environmental risks" and don't mention any. So what's the problem with PVC? You'll find the answer on BuildingGreen's Environmental Building News. UPDATE: I just learned this is behind a paywall. My article gives the gist.

Brent Ehrlich writes:

safeVinyl Institute/Screen capture

The PVC Debate: A Fresh Look

It's a shocker of an article that goes through all of the reasons that some organizations, like the Living Building Challenge, have put it on their Red Lists. They explain why they did it in a sentence that encapsulates the whole story:"we took the precautionary approach because we had concerns about phthalates and chlorine, the limited ability to recycle it, and health of the environment and workers."

The article covers the dangers of chlorine and dioxin, raising as many questions as it answers. But there's more; the manufacture of PVC is the largest mercury consumer in the world. Vinyl chloride reeases are still a problem (the Vinyl institute says they are not). There are stabilizers (formerly lead and cadmium, now organotins, compounds of tin and hydrocarbons) that are toxic and of course, banned in Europe.

Then there are the phthalates.

Phthalates are the most common plasticizers, and those with three to six carbon atoms (low-molecular-weight phthalates) are reproductive toxicants and have been associated with asthma, obesity, and other health problems. They are listed as “substances of very high concern” by REACH (the EU’s Registration, Evaluation, Authorization, and Restriction of Chemicals program) and are banned in Europe but not in the U.S. The most common of these, DEHP (di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate) is still in use in the U.S. in a wide range of products, including medical equipment.

durableVinyl Institute/Screen capture

The tangled web of PVC

This is where it gets really interesting, how the battle over the safety of PVC has led people to just throw up their hands.

Whether in reaction to the severity and persistence of PVC’s impacts, the sheer volume of information on impacts, the denial and misinformation from the PVC industry, or other factors, many green building professionals are simply opting to ban or avoid PVC, and are trying to find safer alternatives.

It's all so complicated, the question of what the biggest issue is, where you can use it and where you shouldn't. One architect explains:

“There is definitely an interest (from building owners) in reducing PVC but not in eliminating it in all applications,” said Wilmot Sanz’s Walter. When she uses PVC, she prefers products without phthalate plasticizers that will be used in applications where the PVC will last the lifetime of the building. “In a plumbing product, it will last; in a flooring product, it will not.”

Vinyl is the ultimate petrochemical, a vast industry and part of an even bigger oil and gas industry. Politicians at State and Federal levels listen to them very carefully. They should read this article.

What's so vile about vinyl?
The plastics industry is going state by state to get LEED banned from government projects. What's their problem?

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