Often when choosing a product made of plastic, consumers ask themselves: "What is it, polyvinyl chloride?" The harm and benefits of this material have long been studied. However, the downsides of PVC far outweigh its usefulness.
The most common plastics pose a serious threat to human he alth and the environment. The challenges of using this material include: extreme pollution from production, toxic chemical exposure during use, fire hazards, and their contribution to the growing global solid waste crisis. But one plastic stands out: PVC is the most environmentally damaging of all plastics throughout its life cycle.
PVC's life cycle - its manufacture, use and disposal - results in the release of toxic chlorine-based chemicals. They areaccumulate in water, air and the food chain. As a result, we get: serious he alth problems, including cancer, damage to the immune system and hormonal disruptions.
What is PVC? Description
Polyvinyl chloride, commonly known as PVC or vinyl, has become one of the most widely used plastics. We can see many products made from this material all around us: packaging, home furniture, children's toys, car parts, building materials, medical supplies and hundreds of other products. Its advantages are that it is very versatile and relatively inexpensive. But the price we pay for an inexpensive and seemingly harmless item made of PVC is much higher than it might seem at first glance.
In fact, this common plastic is one of the biggest contributors to the release of toxic substances. PVC pollutes human bodies and the environment during production, use and disposal. While all plastics pose a serious threat to human he alth and the environment, few consumers realize that PVC is the single most environmentally damaging of all plastics.
History of the discovery of polyvinyl chloride
PVC was discovered by accident on two occasions during the 19th century: in 1835 for the first time by Henri Victor Regnault and by Eugen Baumann in 1872. In both cases, the polymer appeared as a white solid in vinyl chloride bottles after exposure to sunlight. Regnault succeeded in obtaining vinyl chloride,when he treated dichloroethane with an alcoholic solution of potassium hydroxide. Then, quite by chance, by direct exposure of the monomer to daylight, polyvinyl chloride was obtained. Bauman managed to polymerize several vinyl halides and was the first to figure out how to make polyvinyl chloride. True, it came out in the form of a plastic product.
At the beginning of the 20th century, chemists Ivan Ostromyslensky and Fritz Klatte tried to test the use of polyvinyl chloride for commercial purposes, but their efforts were unsuccessful due to difficulties in converting the polymer. Ostromyslensky in 1912 managed to achieve conditions for the polymerization of vinyl chloride and develop convenient methods on a laboratory scale. Klatte discovered in 1918 processes in which polyvinyl chloride is obtained by reacting hydrogen chloride and acetylene in the gaseous state in the presence of catalysts.
Chlorine in PVC
PVC plants are the largest and fastest growing users of chlorine, accounting for nearly 40% of the world's total use. Hundreds of chlorine-based toxins accumulate in the air, water and food. Many of these chemicals, called organochlorines, are resistant to degradation and will remain in the environment for decades. Scientific studies show that these chemicals are associated with serious and widespread he alth problems, including infertility, immune system damage, impaired child development, and many other harmful effects.
Because of the chemical structure of organochlorine compounds, humans and animals cannot effectively remove them from their bodies. Instead, many of these compounds accumulate in adipose tissue, resulting in pollution levels thousands or millions of times greater than in the environment. Each of us has a measurable amount of chlorinated toxins in our bodies. Some organochlorine compounds can affect a person's life before birth, at the most delicate stages of development.
Dioxin: an integral element in the production of PVC
Dioxin and dioxin-like compounds are also harmful to he alth. These substances are unintentionally created during the manufacture, use or combustion of chlorine-based chemicals. Large amounts of dioxin are generated at various stages of PVC production, and the abundance of products made from this material in medical waste and garbage is one of the reasons why incinerators are considered the largest sources of dioxins. Thousands of accidental fires in buildings built with PVC release dioxin in ash and soot, polluting the environment.
Dioxin is known to be one of the most toxic chemicals ever produced. In their ongoing study of the substance, environmentalists suggest that there is no safe level of exposure to dioxin. So any dose, no matter how low, can cause serious damage.for good he alth. Scientists have also concluded that dioxin levels, which are currently found in most adults and children, are already high enough to pose a serious threat to public he alth around the globe.
Additional PVC components
Because PVC is practically useless on its own, it must be combined with a range of additives to give PVC the required characteristics in the final product. These additives include toxic plasticizers (such as phthalates), stabilizers containing hazardous heavy metals (such as lead), fungicides, and other toxic substances. Because these additives are not chemically bonded to PVC, the product itself can be permanently hazardous to the consumer. Additives can leach out, combine with other materials, or dissolve in the air. There are as many examples of potential human exposure as there are PVC products themselves. The smell of new car interiors is a familiar example of what experts call the chemical evaporation of PVC products.
A growing body of scientific evidence suggests that many of these chemicals found in polyvinyl chloride disrupt the hormonal system, leading to birth defects, infertility, reproductive problems and developmental difficulties. There is growing evidence that the same trends are occurring in people around the world, including a decrease in sperm count, an increase in certain types of cancer, deformities of the reproductive organs, and mental problems such as deficiency syndrome.attention and weakening of the immune system.
Harm to he alth when using polyvinyl chloride is caused by toxic additives that make up its composition. They easily leach and evaporate from PVC products. For example:
- Lead in PVC pipes can migrate to the surface of the product, where it is easily carried by water, and then enters the human body.
- Phthalates are added to make PVC soft and flexible. Products such as shower curtains and children's toys release gas when heated, which can be easily inhaled.
- Flame retardants are added to PVC products to resist fire. Building materials can be heated in the sun, after which the products release hydrogen chloride, which is poisonous to the human body.
The main chemical element of PVC is chlorine, and the production of chlorine releases dioxins into the environment.
- Some scientists argue that there is no safe level of human exposure to dioxins.
- They are persistent and bioaccumulative. Most human exposure occurs through foods such as meat, dairy products, fish and shellfish, as these substances are concentrated in animal fat.
- In addition to dioxin, chlorine production also releases mercury and asbestos waste.
- Settlements adjacent to PVC plants,particularly susceptible to toxic chemical pollution from plastic production.
PVC exposure to children
Children are not little adults. Their developing brains and bodies, their metabolisms and behaviors make babies uniquely vulnerable to toxic chemicals such as those released during the PVC life cycle:
- Harming a baby's he alth is done in the womb through exposure to toxic chemicals. Babies consume chemicals through breast milk, baby food and environmental contact.
- The rapid development of the brain in fetuses, infants and young children makes them more susceptible to the harmful effects of chemicals that can interfere with brain function and development.
- For their weight, children eat, drink and breathe more than adults - so they absorb more toxic pollutants.
- Babies put things in their mouths and spend a lot of time on the floor and on the ground, resulting in regular contact with chemicals from toys, containers, dirt and dust.
PVC recycling is not a solution to the environmental problems that arise in its production and use. While most plastics are quite recyclable, PVC is the worst example - it is the least recyclable of all plastics. This is because products made from it contain so many additives that it would be impractical and expensive to recycle them. Next numbersspeak for themselves. According to recent statistics, less than 1.5% of the total PVC production after consumption has been recycled.
Many PVC additives, including phthalates and heavy metals such as lead, slowly leach out of PVC over time in environmental exposure (such as in a landfill), eventually contaminating ground and surface water.
Use of PVC in construction
One of the purposes of polyvinyl chloride is its use in construction. The largest overall use of PVC in this industry doubled between 1995 and 2010. Because so much PVC is used in building and household items, accidental building fires are becoming more of a threat to rescuers and residents. Although PVC building materials are often fire resistant, they can release toxic hydrogen chloride gas when heated. These corrosive gases can spread faster than flames, reaching indoor occupants before they can escape. Hydrogen chloride is lethal if inhaled.
It's not uncommon for people in distress in a building fire to die from toxic PVC fumes before the flames actually reach them, according to fire safety experts. A striking example is the fire that broke out in 2009 at the Lame Horse club in Perm.
As builders and politicians become more aware of the dangers and potential costs associated withfires from PVC, further restrictions on the use of harmful material in the construction of buildings are introduced.
Safe substitutes for PVC
The explosive growth of the vinyl industry comes amid clear evidence of serious he alth hazards from PVC, its production and use. Production workers, their families and communities are in immediate danger. There is strong evidence that it is now possible and important to make a rapid transition to safer materials.
The good news is that this industrial transition can be done in a way that is fair to all involved - plastics producers, industrial workers and consumers. PVC can be replaced with safer materials in almost all cases. They can be traditional materials such as clay, glass, ceramics and wood. Where traditional materials cannot be used as a substitute, even chlorine-free plastics are preferred over PVC. As consumers increasingly demand PVC-free products and as the environmental and he alth risks of PVC are recognized, practical alternatives will become more economically viable.
Many companies and even governments have introduced PVC restrictions and substitution policies.
- Large companies,the likes of Proctor and Gamble are moving away from PVC packaging.
- BMW, Herliltz, IKEA, Opel, Sony-Europe and Volkswagen have announced PVC-free policies.
- Major construction projects such as the "Eurotunnel" between England and mainland Europe have been completed without the use of PVC.
- Due to increased market demand, hundreds of European communities have imposed restrictions on the use of PVC in public buildings.
- Swedish parliament votes to phase out soft PVC and hard PVC with additives already considered harmful.
Thus, it has long been known that PVC causes irreparable harm to he alth. Polyvinyl chloride is considered dangerous today. In cases where possible, it is better to replace it with analogues in order to avoid problems in the future.