PVC: A Health Hazard From Production through Disposal

Paul Goettlich 25oct01

While it’s important to note that PVC is the worst plastic known on earth, it’s equally important to understand that there is no “good” (benign) plastic. In other words, all plastics are bad.


In 1912, German chemist Fritz Klatte at Greisheim Electron unknowingly made the first PVC in an attempt to create uses for large quantities of acetylene gas fuel lamps just before the new technology of electric lights made them obsolete. He had reacted acetylene with hydrochloric acid (HCl). Not knowing what to do with the new material, it was stored for some time, and polymerization took place. Their patent expired in 1925 without them ever knowing what to do with it. Independently, in 1926, chemist Waldo Semon at the American company B.F. Goodrich invented PVC. And again, it was patented. [1]

One of the first uses for PVC was insulation on electric cables in 1930. Mass production, facilitated by improved injection molding, and automation, greatly reduced its price. PVC has been commercially available since 1942. By 1950, there were five companies producing PVC. And by 1980, there were twenty. Today, vinyl is the second largest-selling plastic in the world, and the industry employs more than 100,000 people in just the US.[2] PVC is the second largest volume thermoplastic only to polyethylene. Production capacity has almost doubled over the last 20 years, currently 27 million tons/year worldwide. Current worldwide uses of PVC by percent are as follows: Building 56%; Packaging 15%; Consumer goods 10%; Electronics industries 9%; Agriculture 5%; Others 5%. [3]

Production of PVC

Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) Molecule

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), also known as “vinyl,” [4] is produced in several steps. In the first step, ethylene dichloride (EDC) is produced by the chlorination of ethylene through either direct chlorination or oxychlorination. Direct chlorination reacts ethylene with chlorine. Oxychlorination is done by reacting ethylene with dry hydrogen chloride (HCl) and oxygen at temperatures generally less than 325°C. The resulting EDC is then subjected to pressures between 20-30 atmospheres and temperatures between 550-650°C. This process is known as pyrolysis, or thermal cracking. Equal parts of vinyl chloride monomer[5] (VC) and hydrogen chloride (HCl) are created during this stage. The VC is then isolated. [6] And finally, PVC is made by the polymerization of the VC. Polymerization is a chemical reaction linking the molecules of a simple substance (monomer) together to form large molecules whose molecular weight is a multiple of that of the monomer. There are two general types of polymerization reactions, addition polymerization, and condensation polymerization. PVC is made by addition polymerization, which occurs when VCM reactive monomers unite without forming any other products. Its resulting molecular structure is similar to that of polyethylene.


In this pure form, it is a fine-grained, white powder or resin. Chemical additives give it the desired characteristics for the multitude of products made of PVC. PVC can be processed with all the techniques for plastics and its applications include rigid, elastic and spongy goods. Other uses include; bottles, window frames, pipes, flooring, wallpaper, toys, car seats, guttering, cable insulation, credit cards, and medical products such as blood bags, IV tubing and much more.

The properties of PVC can vary widely with the method of production. It is resistant to water, acid, bases, some solvents, fats, and oils. It can be heat-sealed between 194-356°F (90-180°C). Uses of it include food containers, molded articles, and water pipes.

Additive ingredients include plasticizers, stabilizers, antifog agents, lubricants, colorants, and flame-retardants. Heavy metals such as lead and cadmium are used as stabilizers, plasticizers such as diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), dyes, solvents, and other additives–can cause an infinite variety of deleterious health effects throughout its lifecycle.


Lead compounds are the most common stabilizers in PVC. Some of them are; basic lead carbonate, lead stearate, basic lead stearate, tribasic lead stearate, basic (dibasic) lead stearate, and basic lead phthalate. The main intake is via food and water.[7]

Cadmium and barium compounds are also used in the manufacture of PVC as stabilizers.[8]


PVC can be colored by mechanically dispersing solid pigment particles so that each is covered with binder molecules, without trapping air between binder and pigment. Since the colorants are not part of the polymerized along with the VCM, it too can migrate.

Henry Tousaint, a former worker at the PPG Industries plant in Lake Charles, La., receives a radiation treatment for mantle-cell lymphoma, a rare cancer he blamed on exposures to vinyl chloride and other chemicals. Tousaint, 54, died April 30, 1998

Industry-Wide Conspiracy Lasting Decades

VCM is categorized as a Group 1 Carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a branch of the World Health Organization (WHO).[9] More than 30 million pounds of VCM were emitted in 1974 from PVC product manufacturing solely in the US.[10]

The PVC industry has known about the carcinogenicity of VCM since about 1970, when Pier Luigi Viola[11] of the Regina Elena Institute for Cancer Research in Rome, found evidence of a VCM-cancer link in research for the Solvay plant in Rosignano, Italy and reported on it at the 10th International Cancer Congress in Houston, Texas. In 1972, Cesare Maltoni found angiosarcoma, a rare form of liver cancer, in test animals subjected to inhalation studies at the 250-ppm level.

In January 1973, the Manufacturing Chemists Association (CMA) visited Maltoni in Bologna, in an attempt to bury his results by bribing him. The CMA thought it would ruin the $65-billion/year VC industry and worked quickly to discredit Maltoni’s research, claiming that it was heavily flawed. Not only was his work correct, but he prophetically stated that “[v]inyl chloride is probably only one tree in a large forest. I am very suspicious of all compounds of the carbon-chloride group.”[12]

The wall of secrecy surrounding VC was not breached until Jan. 23, 1974, when B.F. Goodrich announced that it had found three fatal cases of angiosarcoma among workers at its PVC plant in Louisville. Goodrich, fearful of a broad indictment of PVC, had tried to stop publication of a European researcher’s paper in 1966, according to a Monsanto memo.[13] Currently, all but consumers know that PVC is a threat to both human and environmental health.

PVC has irreparably harmed the health of many thousands of PVC production workers. At the same time, the manufacturers knew of the dangers and deliberately conspired to withhold the information about VC toxicity from its workers and the public. The PBS Bill Moyers TV special Trade Secrets made this public knowledge on 26 March 2001.[14] Besides being the direct cause of cancer, emphysema, reproductive disorders, learning disabilities and death, it dissolved the bones in the fingers of many.

Residents near PVC plants are at extreme risk. In Mossville, LA, the home of two PVC manufacturers, the level of 13.5 parts per trillion (ppt) dioxin TEQs was found in human breast milk, 28 ppt in soil, 0.6 ppt. in the soil of a chicken coop, and 2.09 pg/g in egg.[15] According to a survey by Dr. Marvin Legator, director of the Toxics Assistance Program at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Mossville residents suffered from illnesses related to chemical exposure at levels 2-3 times higher than that of a control group in every one of the 12 body system categories.[16] Considering that dioxin mimics every hormone in the human body and is active to 1/10 ppt[17]

Dioxin and PCBs: Unavoidable Byproducts of PVC

There is no “threshold” dose for dioxin. For dioxin, the lowest dose that causes hormonal action has not been found yet. It currently stands at about 1 part per trillion, but researchers have been unable to find the threshold using the most up-to-date advanced systems. It is thought to be the most toxic human-made chemical.

Dioxin is created during all phases of PVC production, as well as in its disposal by incineration or accidental fire.

Definition of Threshold: The point at which a physiological or psychological effect begins to be produced. <below the threshold of consciousness>  Merriam-Webster Medical Dictionary There is no threshold for 2,3,7,8,-TCDD. It is highly toxic even if it cannot be detected.

Dioxin is made up of 75 different compounds. A more complete name for these compounds is chlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins (CDDs), which are commonly referred to as polychlorinated dioxins. They vary widely in toxicity and deleterious health effects. These 75 compounds are divided into 8 sub-groups of chemicals based on the number of chlorine atoms—di-chlorinated dioxin (DCDD), tri-chlorinated dioxin (TrCDD), tetra-chlorinated dioxin (TCDD), penta-chlorinated dioxin (PeCDD), hexa-chlorinated dioxin (HxCDD), hepta-chlorinated dioxin (HpCDD), and octa-chlorinated dioxin (OCDD).   2,3,7,8-TCDD has been studied extensively and is the prototype for the CDDs. Compounds with toxic properties similar to 2,3,7,8-TCDD are called “dioxin-like” compounds. Quite often, when a scientist refers to dioxin, it is understood that all 75 compounds are being refereed to.

Most dioxins are created by the industrial processes of humans, as well as building fires, and forest fires. 

Other processes know to create CDDs:

  • Chlorine bleaching process used by pulp and paper mills.
  • Manufacturing process of chlorinated organic chemicals, such as chlorinated phenols. (Chlorinated pesticides/herbicides, 
  • Manufacturing of 2,4,5-trichlorophenol (2,4,5-TCP). 
    • 2,4,5-TCP was used to produce hexachlorophene (used to kill bacteria) and the herbicide, 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T). Various formulations of 2,4,5-T have been used extensively for weed control on crops and range lands, and along roadways throughout the world. 2,4,5-T was a component of Agent Orange, which was used extensively by the U.S. military in the Vietnam War.
  • Hexachlorophene
  • Pentachlorophenol (PCP)
  • Fossil fuel combustion (coal, oil, natural gas and wood)
  • Incineration processes (municipal and medical solid waste and hazardous waste incineration). 
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Home-heating systems
  • Internal combustion engine exhaust (cars, trucks, buses, lawn equipment, airplanes, motorcycles, and boats) 

PVC plastic is the largest single use of chlorine in the U.S., accounting for about 34 percent of all chlorine production. In 1996, the US and Canada alone produced 6.61 million tons of PVC and copolymers.[18] A large body of evidence suggests that the greatest share of the nation’s dioxin burden stems from the manufacture, use, recycling, and disposal of this enormous quantity of PVC plastic.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has known since the 1980’s, that dioxin is an unavoidable byproduct created during the production and heating or incineration of many materials containing chlorine such as PVC and paper. One can be fairly safe in assuming that the PVC industry’s knowledge of dioxin being created by the manufacture of PVC predates that of the EPA. Since they continued to manufacture PVC even after knowing this, it is therefore an intentional action placing profits above people. Industry also knows that PCBs are an unavoidable byproduct of PVC production. The fact that the manufacture of PVC cannot be performed without the creation of extremely toxic substances is not justification to continue making it. Dioxin so incredibly toxic, no excuse will suffice as justification.

Dioxin has been found in PVC process waste in concentrations as high as 200,750 parts per billion (ppb), which compares closely with that found in Agent Orange production wastes. Making the production of PVC free of dioxin is highly unlikely. One industry officially stated in 1994, “It is difficult to see how any of these conditions could be modified so as to prevent PCDD/PCDF formation without seriously impairing the reaction for which the process is designed.” PVC is the largest single use of chlorine in the US, and is most likely the largest source of the dioxin in the US. It accounts for about 34 percent of all chlorine production.[19]

According to the EPA, incineration of municipal and medical waste, which is heavily loaded with PVC, is the largest source.[20] Dioxin has no commercial value and is extremely toxic, long-lived and ubiquitous in both the environment and our bodies. It is hormonally active in concentrations as low as 5 parts per trillion (ppt). The EPA has labeled dioxin a known carcinogen.[21] It is also unavoidable when PVC is incinerated or heated. PVC is the largest contributor of the world’s dioxin burden and it is highly persistent in the environment, traveling up the food chain, and accumulating in body fat. 

Much of the discarded PVC is burned knowingly in municipal incinerators or accidentally in building fires, sending minute but extremely potent quantities of dioxin into the air. How to prevent the creation of dioxin when certain organic materials are incinerated in the presence of a source of chlorine (PVC and other chlorinated materials) and oxygen is still unknown. When airborne this potent chemical travels a few feet or thousands of miles. After making its way to the upper atmosphere, it condenses in colder regions of the globe. According to a study by Barry Commoner at Queens College, CUNY, dioxin concentrations in Inuit mothers’ milk are twice the levels observed in southern Quebec, even though no significant sources of dioxin are located nearby.[22]

In 1994, the nonprofit organization Greenpeace sampled the sediment downstream the discharge of the Geon Corporation (formerly BF Goodrich) in LaPorte, Texas. They found it to contain a dioxin concentration of greater 2,911 parts per trillion (ppt). This is about five times higher than what the EPA reported in their draft dioxin reassessment. From that reading, Greenpeace estimates that the quantity of dioxin discharged into U.S. waterways from EDC/VCM facilities may rival that discharged from all U.S. pulp and paper mills.[23] The lipophilic nature of dioxin allows it to be readily assimilated in the lipid (fat) stores of plants and animals. It rapidly enters the food of all creatures on earth. Bioaccumulation is the result of its presence and persistence at many locations on the web of life. It is not broken down in the systems of various organisms, and is accumulated in the organism that consumes it. The pace of accumulation increases with the level of the organism on the food chain.[24] The higher level, the more organisms of the lower levels it must consume to survive. Because humans are at the top of the web of life, we accumulate the most dioxin, PCBs, and other bioaccumulating contaminants. Children are at an even higher level than their parents.


All mothers have had many years of exposures. Many of the chemicals accumulate faster than they are cleared and are attracted to the fatty cells of the body. When pregnant, these stored toxins can affect the embryo in a number of ways. It is now understood that the placenta does not protect the embryo from all harm. It acts as an efficient barrier to bacteria, but not to most synthetic chemicals. Some cross the placenta with ease, some are changed into even more toxic chemicals called metabolites, and others damage the functioning of the placenta.[25]

Dioxin is just one of hundreds of contaminants stored in the mother’s fat. It is consumed by nursing infants at a rate of 35-100 pg/kg (picograms per kilogram of body weight per day. A picogram is one-trillionth of a gram). The World Health Organization’s acceptable daily intake of dioxin is 1-4 pg/kg. The EPA “Risk Specific Dose” is 0.01 pg/kg,[26] which is 10,000 times lower than that the nursing child receives.


Dioxin is also stored in the father’s fatty tissues. Dioxin is what made Agent Orange such a nightmare for Vietnam vets and their offspring. Its legacy continues today in US veterans, Vietnamese citizens, and their offspring, decades after its use.[27] It and many other contaminants can cause problems related to his sperm that are passed on to the child. Besides lowering the quantity and quality of sperm, the DNA carried by the sperm can be damaged, the sperm can be coated in toxins, and the semen entering the vagina can carry the toxicants that are flowing throughout the body of the father.[28] His own sperm production could have been limited while he was an embryo. Decreasing sperm counts in many industrialized nations are about 1.5% annually.[29]


Considering the facts above, it follows that our children that take the largest hit of dioxin, PCBs, and other toxic chemicals that are the result of the manufacture, use or disposal of PVC and other synthetic chemicals and products.

Dioxin is the most powerful endocrine disruptor (ED). An ED is generally a manmade synthetic chemical that has been proven to have many deleterious effects on the endocrine system of animals by mimicking, blocking, and/or disturbing in some other way, the messages of hormones that guide the complex processes of the endocrine system.[30] There is no human hormone that dioxin does not disrupt.

Accidental building and forest fires release some unknown quantities of dioxin. In the case of the building fires, the creation of dioxin is from the abundant supply of PVC materials in and on the building. The windows, flooring, garden hoses, raincoats, umbrellas, toys, wall and floor coverings, furniture, and all the other PVC items in a building add up to a significant source of chlorine to be burned. In the case of forest fires, the dioxin originated with the advent of chlorinated chemicals and did not exist in the massive quantities recorded today. This fact is borne out because of the analysis of mummies showing little or no traces of dioxin. Therefore, it is not true when Industry states that forest fires are the cause of dioxin and that dioxin has always been on earth in great quantities.

Vinyl chloride monomer

Vinyl chloride monomer (VC) is a gas that is currently produced in the United States by 10 companies at 12 facilities, which are as follows: Westlake Monomers Corporation in Calvert City, Kentucky; Borden Chemicals and Plastics in Geismar, Louisiana; Dow Chemical in Oyster Creek, Texas, and in Plaquemine, Louisiana; Georgia Gulf Corporation in Plaquemine, Louisiana; PPG Industries in Lake Charles, Louisiana; Vista Chemical Company in Lake Charles, Louisiana; The Geon Company in LaPorte, Texas; Formosa Plastics Corporation in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and in Point Comfort, Texas; Occidental Chemical Corporation in Deer Park, Texas; and Oxymar in Ingleside, Texas. [31]

VC was used as an aerosol propellant and as an ingredient of drug and cosmetic products such as hair sprays, until the EPA banned it in 1974.[32]

Monomers are very reactive and biologically aggressive.[33] The health effects of VC are many. It is toxic in the short- and long-term. It is an immunotoxicant, reproductive toxi…………..

VC is a known human carcinogen, and has been associated with tumors of the liver, brain, lung, and hematolymphopoietic system. There is a causal association to angiosarcoma of the liver. Exposure to VC also causes other forms of cancer, such as melanoma, hepatocellular carcinoma, brain tumors, lung tumors, and malignancies of the lymphatic and hematopoietic system. Exposure to PVC dust was associated with an increased incidence of lung tumors. There are slightly elevated risks for gastric and gastrointestinal cancer (other than liver cancer).

When inhaled, VC can induce pulmonary adenomas and adenocarcinomas, mammary adenocarcinomas, liver angiosarcomas, and angiosarcomas and adenocarcinomas at other sites in mice of both sexes. Inhalation of VC induced Zymbal gland carcinomas, nephroblastomas, and liver angiosarcomas in rats of both sexes and mammary tumors and hepatocellular carcinomas in female rats. When administered by inhalation, VC induced skin tumors in male hamsters and angiosarcomas (liver, spleen, or skin), mammary carcinomas, skin carcinomas, and stomach adenomas in female hamsters. Newborn rats developed angiosarcomas and hepatomas when exposed to VC by inhalation. A combination of oral administration of ethanol and inhalation of VC resulted in more liver tumors (including angiosarcomas) than after treatment with VC alone.[34]

VC has been found as a degradation product of chloroethylene solvents (perchloroethylene and trichloroethylene) and in landfill gas and groundwater at concentrations up to 200 mg/m3 and 10 mg/L, respectively. Worldwide occupational exposure to VC still seems to be high in some countries (e.g., averages of approximately 1,300 mg/m3 until 1987 in one factory), and exposure may also be high in others where VC is not regulated. By combining the most relevant epidemiologic studies from several countries, we observed a 5-fold excess of liver cancer, primarily because of a 45-fold excess risk from angiosarcoma of the liver (ASL). The number of ASL cases reported up to the end of 1998 was 197 worldwide. The average latency for ASL is 22 years.[35] There is a 600% increase in the risk for seminoma, one type of testicular cancer, among plastic workers exposed to PVC.[36]


When it is blended with a plasticizer such as a phthalate ester or phosphoric acid, PVC becomes pliable and is used to form flexible articles such as raincoats, shower curtains and cling films. The pliability of PVC food wrap comes from plasticizers, which can vary from 3% to 80%, by weight.[37] Plasticizers are not chemically bound to the polymer. They reside between the PVC molecules and allow them to slide by each other and flex. Because of they are not chemically bound, they have a tendency of migrating into the foods wrapped in PVC plastic, carrying other components of the plastic (e.g. Stabilizers). Plasticizers migrate from PVC into many substances such as hexane, soapy water, cottonseed oil, distilled water, and even into air.[38]

PVC is inherently flame retardant and needs no additional chemicals to reduce flammability. Some plasticizers used to give it flexibility may increase flammability by diluting the high chlorine polymer with combustible material. Some of the chemicals used in PVC as flame-retardants are Diphenylcresyl phosphate,[39] Trioctyl phosphate,[40] and Tricresyl phosphate.[41] , [42], [43]

Pure PVC is white, translucent, rigid, and somewhat brittle. In that form it is called rigid-vinyl plastic. Plasticizers give it flexibility, and can account for up to 80% of the weight of PVC. Plasticizers can migrate to the surface, bringing other chemicals such as stabilizers with them. Sixty-percent of the PVC films used in contact with fatty foods had elevated phthalate migration levels. [44]

Diethylhexyl Phthalate (DEHP) is the most widely used plasticizer. DEHP is 80% of the content of most films.[45] The National Toxicology Program is presently reviewing it as a reproductive toxin. DEHP has already been categorized as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.”[46]

DEHP action is dose, time and age dependent.[47] Because of their size, children receive a proportionately larger exposure than adults, and are biologically more vulnerable.[48] They receive a greater dose of DEHP on a mg/kg basis. They absorb more DEHP, convert more DEHP to MEHP (the toxic metabolite of DEHP), excrete less of the MEHP, and are more sensitive to the adverse effects of DEHP than adults are. An expert panel convened in 2000 by the Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction (CERHR) of the National Toxicology Program concluded that they had “serious concern that exposure may adversely affect male reproductive tract development.”[49]

Dialysis patients are exposed to DEHP during their treatment from PVC in the tubing and other equipment. Exposures to multiple toxicants are common, and can potentiate the negative health effects of other compounds via a mechanism involving zinc depletion in the testes. With the co-exposure to DEHP and other testicular toxicants such as ethylene oxide[50], the potential exists for DEHP to potentiate the adverse testicular effects of other compounds via a mechanism involving zinc depletion in the testes. Plasma concentrations of zinc are reduced in men undergoing hemodialysis. They are not only exposed to relatively high levels of DEHP, but also experience a high incidence of testicular atrophy and infertility.[51],[52],[53] Barbie dolls in the National Museum of Denmark are being studied because the plasticizers are migrating to the surface creating a tacky feel to the plastic, and a formation of oily droplets and adhesion to packaging materials. Their skin develops green spots and they weep. The major causes of deterioration of PVC are heat and light. In general the rate of a chemical reaction doubles if the temperature is raised by 59°F(15°C). Losing plasticizer leaves the PVC itself highly vulnerable to deterioration. Deteriorating PVC produces hydrogen chloride, a corrosive and acidic gas. If not rapidly removed from the surface of the plastic, degradation progresses three times faster than before. The acid corrodes any metals it contacts before dispersing.[54]


This section has been totally revised as it’s been found that no plastic is recycled in the sense that we envisioned when its cost and operation was thrust onto municipalities.

Please read The Truth About Recycling Plastic

Switch to PVC-free materials

Hoping to avoid litigation, many major corporations are now eliminating the use of PVC. Proctor and Gamble, Mattel, LEGOs, Little Tikes (Newell Rubbermaid),[55] Baxter[56] and several others have made this commitment.

More than 80% of the IV bags used in the U.S. are PVC plastic manufactured mainly by Baxter Healthcare Corp., Deerfield, IL, and Abbott Laboratories, North Chicago, IL. In 1999, Baxter announced that they would develop an alternative to PVC products. Greenpeace and Health Care Without Harm, a coalition that includes hospitals, nurses’ organizations and the American Public Health Associations placed a large amount of pressure on Baxter to get them to make this decision. They went so far as to own about 100,000 shares of Baxter stock.[57]

Even the American Chemical Society believes that PVC should not be used in medical equipment. In a Chemical & Engineering News article, they stated that “[b]alancing the slight harm to the vinyl chloride industry and the availability of cost-effective alternatives against studies–albeit ambiguous–that show potentially harmful health effects to humans dictates a prudent switch to non-PVC, DEHP free alternatives.”[58]

Many municipalities across the US are banning PVC or strongly recommending that it be phased out. It is banned for use by retail food vendors in Rahway, NJ. CPVC pipe for construction is banned in Lake-in-the-Hills, IL. VC and organotin are migrating from PVC pipes into the water supply in Kansas. The Washington State Department of Ecology issued a “call to action” ‘to virtually and permanently eliminate all releases of toxic, persistent and bioaccumulative chemicals into the state’s environment (land, air and water) by 2025.’ Berkeley and Oakland’s City Council passed resolutions to reduce dioxin wherever possible. Oakland has urged health care institutions to reduce PVC use and eventually become PVC-free’. San Francisco has adopted a resolution to eliminate dioxin wherever possible. The Marin County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution to eliminate dioxin emissions, promoting less-toxic, non-chlorinated, sustainable alternative products and processes, such as chlorine-free paper and PVC-free plastics, to the extent possible, and urges Marin health care institutions to reduce PVC use and eventually become PVC-free, and will send a letter to Marin-based health care institutions to encourage them to phase out the use of PVC products without sacrificing patient care or worker safety.[59]

One of seven goals of Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) is to “phase out the use of PVC plastics and persistent toxic chemicals.” There are about 250 HCWH member organizations in more than 30 countries. Including many hospitals, unions, environmental organizations, and professional associations such as the American Public Health Association (APHA), the Council of the Chicago Medical Society, the Minnesota Medical Association, the California Medical Association, the American Nurses Association.[60]

Harm To Workers Exposed To PVC

There is a six-fold increase in the risk for seminoma, one type of testicular cancer, among plastic workers exposed to polyvinyl chloride (PVC).[61]

In September 1973, the US Department of Health Education and Welfare, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) determined that air contaminants generated by the thermal cutting of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) packaging films in conjunction with the wrapping of meat are potentially toxic to some meat wrapping employees PVC meat wrap. At that time this would have had an effect on 75,000 meat-wrapping employees in the United States, according to union and industry estimates. The testing by NIOSH found hydrogen chloride (HCl) as one of the air contaminants generated by the hot wire cutting of PVC film in the meat wrapping. Other contaminants included chlorinated hydrocarbons and breakdown products of film additives.[62]

NIOSH’s predecessor the Bureau of Occupational Safety and Health began getting complaints about PVC wrap from meat wrappers in the summer of 1969, and continued coming from several cities across the nation at least until the time of the NIOSH report cited.

“Sixteen of the eighteen meat wrappers interviewed in the preliminary survey were known to have suffered ill effects from air contaminants from PVC films. Only two workers were free of any clinical symptomatology. Eight had similar case histories and admitted experiencing varying degrees of sneezing, rhinorrhea, and eye irritation. Most individuals gave a like story that the ill effects came on from one to three hours after the commencement of meat’ wrapping it the morning. The workers stated that as the workday progressed the prodromal manifestations increased. in intensity. The sneezing, rhinorrhea, rind threat and eye irritation would abate in the evening hours and would be non-existent during weekends and vacations.” [63]

In 1974, the FDA was considered revoking the “prior sanction” for use of polyvinyl chloride in food packaging and ban its use for packaging alcoholic beverages because of the migration of VC. “Trade secret” considerations prevented the investigations that were needed.[64]

A 1997 study found that while the food and water intake of VCM cannot accumulate in hazardous quantities, inhalation in workplace (heat cutting and sealing of PVC wrap) settings can accumulate VCM in the blood to form carcinogenic and mutagenic metabolites.[65]

Ethylene dichloride The largest single use of EDC, also known as 1,2-dichloroethane, 1,2-DCE, C2H2Cl2, is the production of VC used to produce PVC. EDC can also be used in the manufacture paint removers, pharmaceuticals, electronics, metal degreasers, aerosols, and urethane foam.[66] In test animals, EDC decreased litter size, decreased fertility, disrupted estrous cycle, increased incidence of congenital cardiac lesions, increased incidence of testicular lesions, and increased embryo mortality significantly decreased antibody-forming cells of the spleen. Acute (short-term) inhalation exposure of humans to EDC can induce neurotoxic, nephrotoxic, and hepatotoxic effects, as well as respiratory distress, cardiac arrhythmia, nausea, and vomiting. No information is available on the reproductive or developmental effects of EDC in humans.[67] EDC is metabolized into epoxides by enzymes, which can yield dichloroacetaldehyde (DCAld), dichloroethanol, and dichloroacetic acid.[68] It is categorized by the EPA as a Group B2 probable human carcinogen,[69] and by IARC as a Group 2B (possibly carcinogenic to humans).[70] All forms of EDC usage in agriculture, including pesticides and fumigants, are banned in 5 countries (Austria, Belize, Canada, Slovenia and the United Kingdom) and in the European Union.[71]

Other Toxicants With Similar Actions

EDC Metabolites

One of the metabolites of EDC, dichloroacetic acid, is also one of the metabolites of trichloroethylene (TCE). Because of the pervasiveness of TCE in the environment, most people are likely to have some exposure via one or more of the following pathways: ingestion of drinking water, inhalation of ambient air, or ingestion of food. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) conducted a survey of various industries from 1981 to 1983 and estimated that approximately 401,000 U.S. employees in 23,225 plants are potentially exposed to TCE. Relatively little information is available in regard to environmental levels and exposure. Background exposure to related compounds may influence the effect of small incremental exposures of TCE. Releases of TCE into the environment occur during its manufacture, use, and disposal. The major use of TCE is as a degreaser for metal cleaning operations. It is also used in paint stripper, adhesive solvent, ingredient in paints and varnishes, in the manufacture of organic chemicals, silk screening, taxidermy, electronic cleaning, wood stains, varnishes, finishes, lubricants, adhesives, typewriter correction fluids, paint removers, and cleaners. More data are needed on the levels of TCE in private wells, indoor air, soil, food, blood across all ages, and mother’s milk.[72]

Vinylidene chloride (VDC)

VDC is used to make Saran-type (Johnson Wax, Racine, Wisconsin) plastics and as a degreasing agent. It has contaminated groundwater in many areas, and is ranked 11th among the hazardous chlorinated organic compounds found in US drinking water. 50% of the US population obtains their drinking water from a groundwater source. The major method of drinking water disinfection in the United States is by chlorination. Monochloroacetic acid (MCA) is formed as a result of chlorination of drinking water for disinfection and can be present at concentrations of approximately 1 µg/l. Coexposure of humans to these chemicals is possible. VDC and MCA are both hepatotoxic and interact with each other. VDC causes centrilobular necrosis of the liver and the elevation of serum enzymes, indicating hepatocellular damage. In animal studies of VDC that included MCA, there was a significant increase in VDC hepatotoxicity. Fasting and other conditions can enhance the injury caused by VDC, putting the poor at greater risk.[73]


Sexual ambiguity of both internal and external genitalia, cryptorchidism (testicular maldescent), hypospadias, cleft phallus, suprainguinal (cryptorchid) ectopic testes, abnormal spermatogenesis, lowered sperm count and motility, genital abnormalities, deformed and reduced penis, abnormal concentrations of steroid and peptide hormones instrumental in reproduction, reduced levels of testosterone, elevated levels of estradiol-17ß, males born with neutral or female genitalia, 20-year-old women dying of breast cancer.


[1]   Department of Polymer Science, University of Southern Mississippi website 1996
 http://www.psrc.usm.edu/macrog/index.htm  (27oct01)

[2]   Vinyl Institute. The history of vinyl.

[3] ECVM, D. Brunin 1995, in Environmental Aspects of PVC, 1995, Ministry of the Environment, Denmark.

[4] Synonyms and trade names: Armodour; Astralon; Bakelite; Exon; Hostalit; Igelite; Lucoflex; Lucovyl; Marvinol; Norvinyl; Opalon; Ortodur; Polychlorovinyl; Polytherm; Porodur; Trovidor; Viniplast; Viniplen; Vinnol; Vinoflex; Yugovinyl. From Sheftel,V. Indirect Food Additives and Polymers. Boca Raton 2000.

[5] Synonyms: Chloroethene, Chloroethylene, Monochloroethylene, VC-monomer. From Sheftel,V. Indirect Food Additives and Polymers. Boca Raton 2000.

[6] Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ADSTR), Division of Toxicology, Atlanta, GA. Toxicological Profile for Vinyl Chloride CAS# 75-01-4. Sep97 

[7] Sheftel,V. Indirect Food Additives and Polymers. Boca Raton 2000.

[8] Sheftel,V. Indirect Food Additives and Polymers. Boca Raton 2000.

[9] IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer, World Health Organization. Vinyl chloride (CAS# 75-01-4) IARC Monographs Vol. 19, Suppl. 7; 1987 

[10] Nelsen, L., Milgrom, J., Eller, R. Vinyl Chloride Monomer Emissions From The Polyvinyl Chloride Processing Industries. Report to US Environmental Protection Agency, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. 76086-11 Arthur D Little, Inc. May 1975. 

[11] Viola PL, Bigotti A, Caputo A: Oncogenic response of rat skin, lungs, and bone to vinyl chloride. Cancer Research 31:516-522, 1971

[12] How They Found the Vinyl-Cancer Link. Chemical Week 17jul74

[13] Morris, J. In Strictest Confidence: The chemical industry’s secrets. Houston Chronicle Series Jul98

[14] Moyers, B., S.Jones. Trade Secrets: A Moyers Report. Television documentary PBS aired on 26mar01. The commercial rights to Trade Secrets are owned by VideoFinders 800-343-4727 (120 minutes run time, $29.95 + $6.00 shipping as of 14aug01). See  http://www.pbs.org/tradesecrets/. An archive of documents that were used as the basis of this program that were obtained through litigation and the Freedom of Information Act are available at the Chemical Industry Archives  http://www.chemicalindustryarchives.org 

[15] Exposure Investigation and Consultation Branch, Division of Health Assessment and Consultation, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Exposure Investigation Report. Calcasieu Estuary, Lake Charles, Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana. CERCLIS NO. LA0002368173 19nov99

[16] Breathing Poison: The Toxic Costs of Industries in Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana. A Report by Mossville Environmental Action Now, Incorporated; Lake Charles Area Concerned Citizens; Communities for a Better Environment – NORAN Project; Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund (Louisiana Office). Feb00

[17] No threshold has been found to date for dioxin. The threshold is the lowest level at which a chemical is active. The value of 1/10 ppt in personal email from Dr. Theo Colborn regarding unpublished data.

[18] Plastics Production 1986-1996 Chemical & Engineering News 23jun97

[19] Costner, P., Cray, C., Martin, G., Rice, B., Santillo, D., and Stringer, R. PVC: A Primary Contributor to the U.S. Dioxin Burden. Greenpeace International Science Unit Feb95
accessed 20 Nov 2020 https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=

[20] US EPA. Exposure and Human Health Reassessment of 2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzo-p-Dioxin (TCDD) and Related Compounds. May 2000 Draft Final.

[21] EPA. Exposure and Human Health Reassessment of 2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzo-p-Dioxin (TCDD) and Related Compounds. EPA/600/P-00/001

[22] Commoner, B., P.W.Bartlett, H.Eisl, K.Couchot. Long-range Air Transport of Dioxin from North American Sources to Ecologically Vulnerable Receptors in Nunavut, Arctic Canada Barry Commoner CBNS Final Report to the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation. Center for the Biology of Natural Systems (CBNS), Queens College, CUNY Sep00 accessed 20 Nov 2020 http://www.ejnet.org/dioxin/arcticdioxrep.pdf

[23] Costner, P., Cray, C., Martin, G., Rice, B., Santillo, D., and Stringer, R. PVC: A Primary Contributor to the U.S. Dioxin Burden. Greenpeace International Science Unit Feb95

[24] Guillette, LJ Jr. Endocrine-disrupting environmental contaminants and reproduction: lessons from the study of wildlife. In Women’s Health Today: Perspectives on Current Research and Clinical Practice. DR Popkin and LJ Peddle, eds. Parthenon Publ. Group, New York, pp.201-207. (1994)

[25] Steingraber, S. Having Faith. Cambridge, MA: Persius Publishing, 2001. p.34

[26] Schecter, A. Personal notes from his presentation at the People’s Dioxin Action Summit, UC Berkeley 10aug00

[27] Schecter, A., et al. Recent Dioxin Contamination From Agent Orange in Residents of a Southern Vietnam City Journal of Occupational Medicine 43:5, pp 435-443 May01

[28] Schettler, T., Solomon, G., Valenti, M., and Huddle, A. Generations at Risk. Cambridge; MIT Press, 1999.

[29] Swan, SH., Elkin, EP., and Fenster, L. The Question of Declining Sperm Density Revisited:
An Analysis of 101 Studies Published 1934-1996. (Abstract) Environmental Health Perspectives v.108, n.10, Oct00

 [30] Goettlich P. What Are Endocrine Disruptors? 25may01

[31] Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ADSTR), Division of Toxicology, Atlanta, GA. Toxicological Profile for Vinyl Chloride CAS# 75-01-4. Sep97 http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp20.html 

[32] Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ADSTR), Division of Toxicology, Atlanta, GA. Toxicological Profile for Vinyl Chloride CAS# 75-01-4. Sep97 http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp20.html 

[33] Sheftel,V. Indirect Food Additives and Polymers. Boca Raton 2000.

[34] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, National Toxicology Program. Vinyl Chloride CAS No.75-01-4. First Listed in the First Annual Report on Carcinogens. 9th Report on Carcinogens Revised January 2001

[35] Kielhorn, J., Melber, C., Wahnschaffe, U., Aitio, A., Mangelsdorf, I. Vinyl Chloride: Still a Cause for Concern. Environmental Health Perspectives v.108, n.7, Jul00

[36] Ohlson, C., Hardell, L., Testicular cancer and occupational exposures with a focus on xenoestrogens in polyvinyl chloride plastics. Chemosphere 40(9-11):1277-82 2000.

[37] Sheftel,V. Indirect Food Additives and Polymers. Boca Raton 2000.

[38] Greenpeace. Volatility and solvent extractability of plasticizers used in PVC. Letter to European Commission Committee on Product Safety 17dec97

[39] Diphenylcresyl phosphate: In animal studies causes inhibition of esterase of brain and spinal chord. Decreased epidydimis weight, sperm motility and viability, and increased morphological abnormalities. (Sheftel, V.)

[40] Trioctyl phosphate: Also a solvent and plasticizer. In animals studies causes increased pheochromocytomas of adrenal glands and incidence of liver carcinoma, and skin erosion. Changes in STI, blood cholinesterase activity, leukocyte count, urinary hippuric acid content, and the glycemic curve. (Sheftel, V.)

[41] Tricresyl phosphate: Also a lubricant and plasticizer. In humans can cause slight to severe nausea and vomiting, accompanied by abdominal pain and diarrhea, polyneuropathy, and axonal degeneration. In animals studies causes general inhibition, motor coordination disorder and tremor, urinary incontinence and intestinal dysfunction, paralysis and a decline in cholinesterase activity, widespread degeberation in large numbers of brainstem nuclei and tracts and in all cerebellaaar foliae and deep nuclei. (Sheftel, V.)

[42] Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD). Environment Monograph Series n.102, Risk Reduction Mongraph n.3: Selected Bromated Flame Retardants, Background and National Experience With Reducing Risk. OCDE/GD(94)96. Paris 1995.

[43] Sheftel,V. Indirect Food Additives and Polymers. Boca Raton 2000.

[44] Sheftel,V. Indirect Food Additives and Polymers. Boca Raton 2000.

[45] Sheftel,V. Indirect Food Additives and Polymers. p.1170 Boca Raton 2000.

[46] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, National Toxicology Program. Di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate (DOP, DEHP) CAS No.117-81-7. First Listed in the First Annual Report on Carcinogens Revised January 2001

[47] Parke DV: Development of detoxication mechanisms in the neonate; in Kacew S, Reasor MJ (eds): Toxicology and the Newborn. New York, Elsevier, 1984, pp 1 -31.

[48] Landrigan, PJ, et al. The Unique Vulnerability of Infants and Children to Pesticides. Environmental Health Perspectives v.107, Supp.3 Jun99

[49] Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction (CERHR) of the National Toxicology Program (2000) CERHR Evaluation of DI (2-ETHYLHEXYL) PHTHALATE, Final Draft http://cerhr.niehs.nih.gov/news/DEHP-final.pdf 

[50] Kaido M, Mori K, Koide O. (1992) Testicular damage caused by inhalation of ethylene oxide in rats: light and electron microscopic studies. Toxicol Pathol 20(1):32-43.

[51] Center for Devices and Radiological Health, FDA. Safety Assessment of Di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP) Released from PVC Medical Devices. 5sep01

[52] Randolph E Schmid. DEHP Plastics Softener called Risky by FDA. Associated Press 5sep01

[53] Moore,RW, et al. Abnormalities of Sexual Development in Male Rats with in Utero and Lactational Exposure to the Antiandrogenic Plasticizer Di(2-ethylhexyl) Phthalate (DEHP). Environmental Health Perspectives v.109, n.3, Mar01

[54] Shashoua, Y. Permanence of Plasticizers in Polyvinylchloride (PVC) Objects in the Museum Environment Abstract from the national meeting of the American Chemical Society 24aug00

[55] Lundquist, P. A Toy Shopper’s Checklist: PVC-free. The Green Guide Jun00 Mothers & Others for a Livable Planet, Inc.

[56] Freudenheim, M. Maker of IV System to Stop Using a Plastic. New York Times 7apr99

[57] Maker of IV System to Stop Using a Plastic Milt Freudenheim / New York Times 7apr99

[58] American Chemical Society (ACS). In the Name of Prudence, Switch. Chemical & Engineering News 15mar99

[59] Greenpeace International. PVC-Free Future: A Review of Restrictions and PVC-free Policies Worldwide. 6th edition, March 2000

[60] Health Care Without Harm, 1755 S Street, NW, Suite 6B, Washington DC 20009. Ms. Patterson 202-234-0091 or info@hcwh.org http://www.noharm.org

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[62] (NIOSH) National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Occupational Exposure to the Thermal Decomposition Products of Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) Meat Packaging Film. NIOSH Health Hazard Report 72-58 Sep73

[63] NIOSH.

[64] Food Chemical News 18mar74

[65] Petersen, J.H., et al. Migration from PVC cling films compared with their field of application. Food Addit. Contam. 13,307, 1996.

[66] Occidental Chemical Corporation website
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[67] EPA Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards, Technology Transfer Network. 1,2-Dichloroethane (Ethylene Dichloride) 107-06-2 Hazard Summary 17may01

[68] Sheftel,V. Indirect Food Additives and Polymers. Boca Raton 2000.

[69] EPA, Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) 1,2-Dichloroethane (CASRN 107-06-2) 01/01/1991 listed B2; probable human carcinogen based on the induction of several tumor types in rats and mice treated by gavage and lung papillomas in mice after topical application. website
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Post Script

I would very much like each reader of this article to come away with the impression that PVC is the all-time worst plastic in the world. But equally important is the understanding that all plastics are toxic to the extent that, in very few generations we will not be able to reproduce, with or without medical assistance. Our bodies, all animals bodies and the oceans are all full of the synthetic chemicals that go into making all of the plastics. The same goes for a wide range of other synthetic chemicals that our government tells us are completely safe. The reason the government tells us this is because they are owned lock, stock and barrel by transnational corporations. The only way we’ll ever get a bit of truth from this government is to halt the flow of corporate money to it. Anything short of that is pointless. We need a paradigm shift away from the government we have now to some completely different form of government. What we have now is extremely dangerous to all life on earth.

Barbie is made of PVC. It seems that Barbie dolls are sometimes “tortured” by youngsters – who even confess to placing the toy in the microwave.

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