The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued “strong final standards” requiring facilities that produce polyvinyl chloride and copolymers (PVC) to reduce toxic air emissions.
|PVC is used extensively in the manufacture of piping, siding and other building materials.|
PVC, a material used extensively in a variety of building products, has long been the subject of scrutiny by organizations that focus on industrial health and safety hazards and toxics in manufactured products. PVC resins are used in paint, coatings, adhesives, and a number of other building materials such as siding, piping, flooring, windows and others.
EPA said the action “will improve air quality and protect people’s health in communities where facilities are located. Exposure to toxic air pollutants, like those emitted from PVC facilities, can cause respiratory problems and other serious health issues, and can increase the risk of developing cancer.”
In particular, children are known to be more sensitive to the cancer risks posed by inhaling vinyl chloride, one of the known carcinogens emitted from PVC facilities, EPA said.
The final EPA standards on emissions are based on currently available technologies and will reduce emissions of air toxics, such as dioxin and vinyl chloride, the agency said.
The standards give facilities flexibility in choosing “the most practical and cost-effective control technology or technique to reduce the emissions,” EPA said. Facilities will be required to monitor emissions at certain points in the PVC production process to ensure that the standards are met.
The agency said 17 PVC production facilities are in operation, with a majority of the facilities located in Louisiana and Texas. All existing and any new PVC production facilities are covered by the final rule.
EPA conducted a 74-day public comment period and two public hearings on the proposal before issuing the final rule.
More information on the final rule: http://www.epa.gov/ttn/oarpg/t3fs.html.
Criticized as ‘Worst Plastic’
The EPA action is aimed at the production of PVC—also called “vinyl”—and not its end uses. But critics of the material’s health and environmental profile have strongly advocated the use of alternative technologies in various products.
The Healthy Building Network (HBN), a group with a stated mission of “transforming the market for building materials” to address health and safety concerns, calls PVC the “worst plastic from an environmental health perspective, posing unique and major hazards in its manufacture, product life and disposal.”
Bill Walsh, HBN executive director, said a significant development in the new EPA directive is the addition of dioxin to the list of chemical emissions to be regulated at PVC manufacturing facilities. He called the inclusion of dioxin “further demonstration of problems with dioxin emissions in the PVC life cycle.”
He noted that in the details on its regulatory plan, EPA estimates dioxin emissions reductions in grams, which he said “shows how profoundly toxic a chemical this is.”
“So the takeaway for me is, after years of denying that dioxin is a problem with PVC production, this shows a recognition that it is a problem,” Walsh told Durability + Design.
He added, however, that a key message to be drawn from EPA’s action is that “avoiding PVC is far superior from an environmental health perspective than trying to control toxic emissions associated with the PVC life cycle.” He said the building industry can consider alternative materials produced with more advanced plastics engineering, such as products based on polypropylene, polyethylene or fiberglass, for example.
Walsh said critics of PVC are disappointed that EPA chooses to base its regulatory policy on PVC on so-called “ best available technology” rather than health-based criteria, which would likely dictate stronger measures to control the hazards posed by PVC production, use and disposal.
HBN says it is “leading the campaign to accelerate the transition away from PVC building materials in favor of safer, healthier alternatives that offer equal or superior performance at comparable prices.” The group says global vinyl production totals more than 30 million tons per year, with 75% of the total used in building applications.
Criticisms of PVC, meanwhile, are disputed by industry organizations. The PVC Pipe Association says such piping is “one of the safest and most tested materials used in North America,” adding that “every aspect of its production, use and disposal has been evaluated and approved by government and independent certification and testing agencies.”
The association adds that PVC is approved around the world for use in water distribution and transmission, consumer products and medical applications, and is “so safe that it is used for intravenous metal tubing.” The group says scientific evidence has shown that it “neither leaches toxic chemicals like lead, cadmium, BPA or plasticizers, nor does it release harmful organotins, nor pose major hazards in its manufacture, use and disposal, nor create a dangerous biofilm nor form dioxins as water passes through, etc.”