Clean Air  

PVC Fact Sheet

PVC products are to the chemical industry what cigarettes are to the tobacco industry: the lynchpin of a toxic economy.(1)

PVC, polyvinyl chloride, is a chlorinated plastic. PVC is made from two carcinogens, ethylene dichloride and vinyl chloride monomer. Production of PVC generates dioxin, a known human carcinogen. Independent studies show that PVC production is among the largest sources of dioxin emissions to the air, land, and water. Also, PVC contains toxic additives such as cadmium, lead, phthalates, and organotins.

Phthalates and organotins are endocrine disrupters. Endocrine disrupters are man-made chemicals which act like hormones, such as estrogen. Endocrine disrupters interfere with normal functions of the hormone systems in humans. Hormones are potent biological substances which act as chemical messengers. Even small amounts can produce large effects. Hormones regulate critical body functions including behavior, development, and reproduction. The endocrine system controls growth, organ development, metabolism, kidneys, body temperature, and other essential functions.

Most endocrine disrupters are fat soluble compounds which tend to remain in the environment, in animals, and people for very long periods. Endocrine disrupters are persistent— they are not metabolized by bacteria and they do not degrade well in the environment, and they bioaccumulate— they are concentrated in the food chain when humans and animals eat plants and animals containing them.

“Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic’s entire life cycle, from production through use and disposal, has negative environmental impacts. PVC is made from two carcinogens, ethylene dichloride (EDC) and vinyl chloride monomer (VCM). The production of PVC creates large amounts of toxic chemicals, including dioxins, furans, PCBs, and hexachlorobenzene.” (2)

“The PVC industry has been plagued by worker health and safety issues for decades. The industry was aware of health problems among PVC plant workers, including high rates of cancer, for decades before that information was shared with regulators or workers. The industry spent years using public relations and manipulating science in order to avoid disclosure and liability for worker illness and deaths. A Federal Court has noted that, ‘The record shows what can only be described as a course of continued procrastination on the part of industry to protect the lives of its employees.’ ”(2)

“PVC is widely used to make building materials, pipes, furniture, and automobile components. When PVC is burned in a fire it gives off toxic hydrogen chloride gas which turns into hydrochloric acid on contact with moisture in the lungs. PVC is involved in a large portion of the approximately one million building and automotive fires in the U.S. each year. Combustion of PVC in accidental fires may be a significant source of dioxin in the environment.” (2)

“When PVC is burned in medical waste and garbage incinerators, it is among the largest single sources of dioxin in those burners. Extremely toxic heavy metals in PVC, such as lead, cadmium, and chromium, are also released from the stacks and end up in the ash of these incinerators.” (2)

“PVC ingredients and their toxic by-products have contaminated the air, soil, and water of communities on the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and Texas where the industry is concentrated.” (2)

“Studies in Netherlands, Sweden, and Germany have all found elevated levels of dioxins in wastewater discharges, sludge, and sediments at PVC production facilities. Greenpeace collected samples from nine US plants that produced EDC or VCM. Four samples were analyzed for dioxin and 25 for other substances used in the production of these chemicals. They found that:(2)(3)

A sample of “heavy end” waste from the distillation of EDC contained 200,750 ppb of dioxin at Vulcan Chemicals in Geismar, Louisiana.

A sample of heavy end waste from the distillation of VCM contained 761 ppb of dioxin at Formosa Plastics in Point Comfort, Texas.

A sample collected from a tank containing process waste contained 1,248 ppb of dioxin at Georgia Gulf Corporation in Plaquemine, Louisiana.

A sample collected from sediment downstream from the discharge point contained 2,911 ppt of dioxin at Geon Corporation (formerly BF Goodrich) in La Porte, Texas.

Virtually all of the products made of PVC have safer substitutes available, making the risks posed by PVC completely unnecessary and unacceptable.(2)

Phase-out PVC

1. Reduce and eliminate production and use of PVC to zero. Give priority to uses that are incinerated or burned in accidental fires, and those most easily replaced with safe, non-toxic substitutes. More rapid phase-outs should occur for PVC used in packaging, children’s toys, medical supplies, and construction materials.

2. Phase-out existing PVC plants

3. Permit no new facilities

4. Phase-out and eliminate burning PVC waste in incinerators

Ensure a Just Transition for Workers

A tax during phase-out on the production of EDC and VCM would help drive the transition away from PVC and would finance the costs associated with it. The revenues would be used to ensure a just, equitable, and orderly transition for workers. For example, funds could be used for new job training, income protection, health insurance, and research and development of non-PVC alternatives.(1)


(1)Taking Action to Stop Dioxin Exposure, Strategy Recommendations from the 3rd Citizens’ Conference on Dioxin and Other Synthetic Hormone Disrupters, 1996

(2)America’s Choice: Children’s Health or Corporate Profit, The American People’s Dioxin Report, November 1999, Center for Health, Environment, and Justice

(3)Costner, P. PVC: A Primary Contributor to the U.S. Dioxin Burden, GPI, February 1995

"This Vinyl House: Hazardous Additives in Vinyl Consumer Products and Home Furnishings"

Highlights From the Greenpeace Report

Greenpeace Findings

All products tested contained detectable levels of phthalates (THA-LATES), with a maximum of 39% by weight in a drinking straw. Some of the highest levels were found in products specifically designed for children's mouths.

Nearly all of the products contained significant amounts of organotins. Wallpaper and floor tiles, on which children spend a lot of time crawling and playing, were the two products containing the highest levels.

Two products contained Bisphenol A, a chemical that affects the hormone system.

Vinyl products for everyday use, containing larger amounts of hazardous additives than any other plastic, can be readily purchased at popular retail stores in the United States.

PVC and Additive Use

Over 76% of all vinyl in the United States is used in building construction - this includes flooring, wallcoverings, pipes, siding, etc.

Worldwide, 86% of all phthalates are used in PVC and nearly 70% of all organotins are used in PVC.

PVC additives are not chemically bound to PVC, but can be released like moisture from a damp sponge.

It has been known for 30 years that additives leach from soft PVC.


Humans have phthalates in our bodies. A recent (2001) Centers for Disease Control (CDC) study confirmed the presence of two of the phthalates detected in the Greenpeace study in a test population.

The offspring of rats fed the three phthalates detected in the Greenpeace study, DEHP, DINP and BBP, do not follow normal patterns of sexual development.

There is reason for concern that DEHP may impair male reproductive system development in human infants and toddlers. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) consider DEHP to be a probable human carcinogen.

DINP causes liver tumors and damages the kidneys in rats and mice. DINP has also been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals.


Breathing or swallowing organotins can interfere with the nervous system, and even cause death at high levels of exposure in humans.

Organotins have adverse effects on marine wildlife and rats, including reduced reproduction and developmental problems.

Organotins build up in the fat of fish, rats and mice.

Right to Know

Manufacturers do not provide information on additives in PVC plastic.

In 1999, the European Commission issued a European-wide emergency ban that eliminated phthalates in toys designed to be put in the mouths of children under three.

The European Commission is currently debating European wide restrictions on PVC use and disposal.

In the US, the Consumer Product Safety Commission made a voluntary agreement in 1986 with toy manufacturers to not use DEHP (above 3%) or DINP (1998) in teethers and rattles.

PVC-Free Business

Companies such as Mattel, Ikea, Lego, General Motors, Honda, Nike, Norm Thompson Outfitters and hundreds of others have committed to pursuing alternatives to PVC for their products.