PVC (polyvinyl chloride), otherwise known as vinyl, is a widely used plastic, and is of concern to the environment and public health during all phases of its life cycle – production, use and disposal. During the production phase, workers at PVC facilities, as well as residents in surrounding areas, may be exposed to vinyl chloride (a building block of PVC) and/or dioxin (an unwanted byproduct of PVC production), both of which are carcinogens. At the end of a product's life, PVC can create dioxin when burned. PVC is not easily recycled.

Because PVC is an inherently brittle material, it requires added plasticizers to make it flexible and to impart other desired properties. A group of plasticizers commonly found in PVC products are phthalates, also called ortho-phthalates. Phthalates are used in many plastics, especially PVC products, as a softening agent to make the plastic flexible. Over 90% of all phthalates are used in PVC products.

Since 2009, the U.S. has prohibited childcare products (products for children under three years of age) and children's toys (toys intended for children under twelve years of age) containing concentrations of phthalates DEHP, BBP, and DBP greater than 0.1%. The phthalates DINP, DnOP (di-n-octyl), and DIDP (diisodecyl) in concentrations greater than 0.1% have been placed on a provisional ban (CPSIA 2008) by the CPSC unless there is a future determination of safety. These restrictions do not apply to PVC products other than the specified children's products.

Lead and other heavy metals are sometimes used as stabilizers or to impart other properties to PVC plastic (WTC 2009), especially in electrical wire insulation.

Published on September 22, 2016

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