Do you have poison plastics in your home? Most of us do; the teething ring dangling from baby’s mouth, Fido’s chew toy, the plastic wrap used for storing food in the fridge, even your shower curtain may be hiding a dangerous dirty secret.
For an entertaining overview of this serious subject, click on the image and listen to what “Sam Suds” has to share.
Polyvinyl chloride, also known as PVC or vinyl, has become one of the most widely-used plastics in everyday products and packaging. You can easily identify these plastics by the number 3 that appears inside the chasing arrows recycling symbol, often accompanied by the letters PVC or just V. It is found in toys, food packaging, water bottles, water pipes, electrical cables, building materials and much more. Despite its widespread use, PVC is commonly considered the most damaging of all plastics — throughout every stage of its production, use and disposal.
Toxic to Make, Toxic to Use, Toxic to Toss
The primary chemicals used to make PVC are extremely hazardous, according to a report by the Center for Health and Environmental Justice. Vinyl chloride is a known human carcinogen and ethylene dichloride is a suspected carcinogen. Throughout manufacturing, toxic byproducts from these chemicals are emitted into the air, water and land, causing acute and chronic health conditions.
During use, plasticizers, or softeners, in PVC are prone to leaching, meaning they do not stay bound to the product. When children or pets chew on PVC toys, they can be ingesting toxic chemicals. One likely-to-leach chemical, di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), has been designated a probable carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). But you don’t have to be gnawing on PVC to pick up its toxins. PVC food packaging, such as plastic trays for microwavable food and plastic wrap can leach into your food. Inhalation is another common means of exposure — that “new shower curtain” odor emitted by some vinyl products is actually carbon-containing chemicals off-gassing into the air. These volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can cause acute eye irritation, coughing, headaches, dizziness and nausea. According to the EPA, the long-term effects are liver, kidney and central nervous system damage, even cancer.
Not surprisingly, PVC is neither recyclable not safe to toss in the trash. Unfortunately for recyclers, a PVC bottle looks a lot like a #1 PET bottle, a very recyclable material. Any #3 PVC plastic mistakenly entering the recycling stream can contaminate an entire load of #1 bottles. If landfilled, PVC pose a significant long-term environmental threat, as its chemical additives can (and do) leach into groundwater. The incineration of PVC can form dioxins, often cited as the most toxic substance known to man.
Purge the Poison
The good news is PVC is avoidable. Since PVC isn’t always labeled with a #3 or the letters PVC or V be on the lookout for soft flexible products with that distinct “new shower curtain” smell. For a full list of products that typically contain PVC see the CHEJ website at: www.besafenet.com/pvc/pvcproducts.htm
BONUS: Rent the movie Blue Vinyl and watch it with your family and friends. This movie is not a typical expose of toxic chemicals in our midst. Instead, the filmakers have explored the impact of PVC on regular people. So often we look at siding on our home and vinyl products in home depot and don’t know the impact that it has on the people who manufacture it. By first looking at herself and the vinyl siding on her parents home, the film maker sets out to discover where vinyl is manufactured and whom it impacts on a daily basis. From workers with cancer to home owners moving because of poisoned land we meet not only greenpeace activists and organic lifestyle types but also the everyday folks who are fighting for their health, their community and justice at home and abroad. This movie is realistic, funny, warm and moving. Never preachy, it asks us to look around at the cheap vinyl products which surround us and wonder who really pays for these bargains.