12 June 2014 — A new report by the Healthy Building Network disputes the claim that phthalate-free polyvinyl chloride is a breakthrough green product, after an extensive research program that adds to the backlash on PVC in buildings.
Phthalates are plasticisers that are used in many products, including PVC, and have been reported as endocrine disrupters. There is concern exposure to phthalates could have adverse affects on human health, including increased rates of cancers, allergies and liver damage, though research is still limited.
“Our evaluation concludes that the removal of phthalates from vinyl products is a good thing,” HBN executive director Bill Walsh said.
“However, even when viewed in their most positive light, the various reformulations of vinyl have not created a clean vinyl. To the contrary, these modifications underscore the essential problem with vinyl itself – chlorine chemistry.”
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Mr Walsh said that phthalate-free PVC products, such as Clean-vinyl and BioVinyl, were simply a rebranding campaign and greenwash from the vinyl industry.
“Phthalate plasticisers are needed because… PVC plastic is rigid and brittle in its pure form,” he said. “Removing this additive – something that alternatives to vinyl never used in the first place – is far from being a breakthrough or advancement in building products. When it comes to avoiding harmful phthalates, vinyl is playing catch-up.”
The report found that all of the serious toxicity problems of the chlorine lifecycle remained in phthalate-free PVC and that other additives might still be of concern. It noted, however, that it was important to stop bringing phthalates into buildings, where people could be exposed.
Mr Walsh said the weight of evidence suggested that alternatives like linoleum and bio-based polyethylene remained superior options to PVC from an environmental and human health perspective. Bio-based plastics featured up to 85 per cent plant-based content, while products like BioVinyl were made from fossil fuel-derived ethylene chloride and toxic chlorine gas, he said.
“The fundamental problem is that the high amount of chlorine that is essential and unique to the production of vinyl is the precursor to a range of unavoidable negative environmental and human health impacts throughout its lifecycle, including unavoidable releases of dioxin.”
The report identified six phthalate-free plasticiser types – three synthetic and three bio-based – in use in commercial PVC building products, and found that some raised fewer concerns than others. Two were recommended if flexible PVC could not be avoided – Grindsted Soft-n-Safe and Polysorb ID 37.
“Due to its overall human health and environmental impacts from manufacturing to disposal, PVC should be a choice of last resort in the selection of building materials,” the report concluded.
Read the full report.