Did you watch CNN’s “Toxic America” a little while ago? If so, you got an unsettling look at the world of PVC manufacturing and its effects on the surrounding neighborhoods. It was exciting to see the underbelly of PVC production exposed to the general public after years of searching for safer alternatives.
For many of you, Toxic Towns was a realization that sent you reeling back a bit. Where is PVC found and is it really that unsafe? Doesn't the removal of phthalates mean it's fine to use? Those are great questions, and my favorite advocate for safer alternatives to PVC, the Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ), has compiled a down and dirty list of convincing reasons for moving away from vinyl (#3 plastic).
CHEJ's Take on Why PVC is Toxic
Many children’s school supplies, such as lunchboxes, backpacks and binders, are often made out of PVC—an unnecessary toxic plastic that is dangerous to our health and the environment across its lifecycle: from production, to use, to disposal. Cancer causing chemicals that contaminate the air and water of surrounding
communities are used to produce PVC. When PVC is manufactured or burned, numerous dioxins are formed and released. Dioxins are a highly toxic group of chemicals that can cause cancer, and harm the immune and reproductive systems. These and other toxic chemicals released during the PVC lifecycle contaminate our bodies and may pose irreversible life-long health threats.
Why Shop for PVC – Free School Supplies?
PVC is unique among plastics because it containsdangerous chemical additives. These harmful chemicals include phthalates, lead, cadmium, and/or organotins, which can be toxic to your child’s health. What’s worse is the danger these chemicals pose- phthalates and other toxic additives can leach out or evaporate into the air over time posing unnecessary dangers to children. Over 90% of all phthalates are used to soften or plasticize PVC products. Children are at risk from even small exposures to these toxic chemicals. That’s why it’s important to purchase PVC-free school supplies.
Top Five Reasons for Avoiding PVC
1. Children are more at risk from toxic chemicals: children are not “little adults” – their developing brains and bodies, their metabolism and behaviors make them uniquely vulnerable to harm from toxic chemicals such as those released by the PVC lifecycle.
2. Production of PVC involves cancer-causing chemicals: PVC products are made from toxic chemicals. Three chemicals are at the core of PVC production: chlorine gas is converted into ethylene dichloride (EDC), which is then converted into vinyl chloride monomer (VCM), which is then converted into PVC. Both VCM and EDC are extremely hazardous. Vinyl chloride, the key building block of PVC, causes a rare form of liver cancer, and damages the liver and central nervous system iii. Vinyl chloride is one of the few chemicals the U.S. EPA classifies as a known human carcinogen. EDC is a probable human carcinogen that also affects the central nervous system and damages the liver.
3. PVC products often contain toxic additives such as phthalates, lead and cadmium: many of these additives are not chemically bound to the plastic and can migrate out of the product posing potential hazards to consumers. In some cases, these additives can be released from the product into the air inside your home. Lead has been used to stabilize and is found in many different PVC products. PVC flooring and other PVC products can contribute to poorer indoor air quality as PVC products can off-gass chemicals called volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
4. School children, teachers and custodians may be at risk for asthma and autism: Asthma is a serious, sometimes life-threatening respiratory disease that affects 7 million American children and 16 million adults. An average of one out of every 13 school-age children has asthma. In fact, asthma is a leading cause of school absenteeism: 14.7 million school days are missed each year due to asthma. In recent years, a number of studies have found a correlation between phthalates emitted from PVC building products and asthma. Yet another study published in 2009 even found a statistically significant link between PVC flooring, asthma, and autism.
5. PVC and hazardous chemicals are in our babies and bodies: in recent years, a growing body of scientific evidence has found that toxic chemicals released by the PVC lifecycle are trespassing into our bodies. Today babies are being born pre-polluted with potentially harmful levels of phthalates and dioxins that may possibly cause lifelong health problems. Phthalates have been found in indoor air and dust, and in human urine, blood and breast milk. An extensive study of 2,500 individuals found metabolites of at least one phthalate in 97 percent of those tested. Dioxins build up in our bodies over our lifetime and can remain there for many years. The levels of dioxins in our bodies are at or near the levels known to cause harm.
Take steps to remove PVC from your child's school by educating yourself and the members of your school board. CHEJ's PVC-free Back to School Guide is the easiest place to start!
P.S. Looking for safe lunch gear options? Crocodile Creek, Laptop Lunches, Fuel Kids, EcoLunchboxes, Lunchbots, Lunchsense and Fresh Snack Packs are BPA, PVC, phthalate and lead-free options made by manufacturers we know and trust.