April 18, 2007:
Q: Thank you for
the information you provide at http://www.turnertoys.com/Polymer_update20051009.htm.
I have recently purchased a Klean Kanteen for my toddler, but I am
concerned about storing juice in it, especially for trips. You
mentioned the possibility of nickel leaching from stainless steel during
the cooking process. Have you found any research on the safety of
storing juice in stainless steel for a length of time? I have been
unsuccessful at finding any research on this topic online. Any
information you can send me would be appreciated.
A: A brief online search suggests that storage of cold acidic liquids should not present a problem. A very realistic and, I think, valid-sounding study by the U.K. Laboratory of the Government Chemist concluded that
"... nickel pickup by meal-sized portions of real foods cooked in stainless steel utensils at normal domestic cooking temperatures and times was generally below the analytical detectable limits for nickel of 0.01 mg/kg, or l,ug in a 100 g serving of food. Undetectable nickel pickup is considered insignificant with respect to human health effects and reinforces the ongomg use of stainless steel by consumers as the material of choice for cookware."
Notably, previously unused utensils leached the most nickel (to be expected), which was negligible to begin with, and rapidly declined from that point. These resultls were for hot acidic foods simmered for 1 to 2 hours. Storage of cold liquids presents even less of a problem.
...more information. Read actual
April 17, 2007:
Q: Hi, I am Action Figure/Toy soldier
collector and customizer. I began investigating best storage method for
storing figures, but have quickly redirected my efforts to investigate
hazards of PVC. I am particulary concerned for Action Figure customizers
who basically make a new version figure from parts of others, because heat
is sometimes used in the process. This can be from power tools (ie dremel
tool) or heat guns to harden polymer clays (ie. sculpey) used to add
sculping details to figures. I am worried enough to have posted a warning
on an Internet Forum that has customizers to cease all heating of
plastics. I am now trying to get the facts as best I may & will
attempt to put the message out on all Forums that have customizers. I am
finding your information helpful and easier to understand then some that
are very complicated. Do you have any advice,info or other
sites/references that might be useful for the heating/burning hazards
A: The danger from heating plastics is actually if they are heated enough to
decompose or burn. In the case of PVC, you can see darkening or oxidizing.
At lower temperatures, a fair test is if you can smell it, you need better
ventilation. An open window and a fan blowing across the work so you are
not inhaling rising fumes, is generally adequate. The fumes released from
decomposing PVC is HCl, and you will certainly notice the acrid smell.
Polyolefins are, I think, relatively benign unless they are burned. They
are used extensively for heat sealing. Based on simple hydrocarbons with
relatively few additives, you are not producing anything really dangerous
when you heat them moderately.
If a substance is designed to be hardened by heat, it is quite possible that
heat just causes a chemical change without releasing any dangerous fumes.
Again, the nose knows. Unless you burn the plastic, it is unlikely you will
release anything actually lethal. One of the worst examples is Polyurethane,
which releases cyanide gas when burned. This generally only occurs at very
high temperatures (an actual fire). Dioxins are generated only at higher
temperatures (fires) under 2,000 F, and preferentially in presence of a
catalyst (which is why burning old electric wire is so dangerous - PVC plus
copper yields dioxins, HCl, and other nasty stuff - and makes house fires so
In machining plastics, you need to use specially designed blades and slower
cutting speeds to avoid excessive heat; or cut intermittently, allowing
frequent cooling intervals, or use water to maintain lower temperature.
Wood-drilling RPM is probably much too fast for plastics. The dust or chips
should be isolated from clean waste such as wood, and disposed of separately
if you are using the wood waste for heat or compost. Always wear a dust mask
when machining anything, unless you have a proper dust collection system.
May 20, 2007:
Q: "Love your website! Are Silicon coated feeding spoons (gerber) harmful? Should I switch to pvc-free the first years disposable spoons? Wont these break down sooner b/c disposable? Thanks so much!"
A: According to our article
it depends on the silicon (you mean "silicone"?) used, and what is mixed with it. Pure medical grade silicone is safe. Why does a spoon have to be coated with anything?
PVC is not suitable for anything during the first 12 months, and generally not good for in-the-mouth use, or use with hot foods. What is "pvc-free the first years disposable spoons"? Don't assume we know every baby product out there. But why buy anything? What is wrong with regular stainless tableware?
As we try to show, nothing is perfectly safe, nor should we expect it to be. There is evidence that modern parents go too far in establishing a sterile environment for infants, which may be having a very serious impact.
This certainly happened in Japan, where young children's immune systems were compromised by lack of "exercize", compounded by their almost universal bottle feeding.
There are theories that this problem may be contributing to a puzzling
rise in food allergies in the US, especially to nuts.
PS: how come you don't want to be on our email list? If we do come up with more material relevant to your question, that is how it will be provided - in our email newsletter. We also do have to sell stuff to maintain the website.
July 26, 2002
Hi, I was wondering if you could soothe my
concern about the use of PVC in plastic liners for platex bottles.
I have been informed that colored plastics
and liners for bottles are safe, but wanted to contact you because of
the extensive information on this site.
thank you very much,
A: I'm sorry to say I can't offer much comfort in regard to the use
of PVC (vinyl) liners for infant formula bottles. The Phthalate
compounds (see pages on this website, navigation bar at left) used to make
PVC flexible gradually leach out of the plastic under mechanical stress
(chewing, ordinary use) at room temperature. At 80 degrees F or
higher they are much more soluble, and may also become available for
inhalation as a gas to some extent. In addition, phtalates are highly
fat-soluble, so the fat content in milk or formula may cause even greater
leaching of the plasticizer into the liquid being ingested by the infant.
Although there is no clear, direct link betwen phthalate ingestion and
disease, phthalates accumulate in fat, liver, heart, and lung tissue, may
cause liver damage over a long period of time, and are believed to affect the immune
system. Further, the organic tin stabilizers generally used in clear PVC may be
harmful to the male reproductive system in very young mammals.
For that reason, Vinyl products, especially those designed to go in the
mouth or contain food, are not a good idea for children younger than 12
months old. However, cold, non-acidic drinks, principally water, should
not be much affected if served to the infant in bottles with PVC liners.
Other than that, breast feeding is always the best choice for infants when
I purchase drinking water in one gallon clear plastic
bottles. One store offers drinking water in bottles with the
number 1 (PETE) on the bottom. A second store offers drinking water in bottles with the
number 3 on the bottom. Which bottle is more inert, and therefore, the better
bottle, number 1 or number 3?
Thank you for your reply.
A: The recycle code #1 indicates PETE, or Polyethylene
Terephthalate. The name seems to contain the word "Phtalate",
and indeed the plasticizer in this plastic is closely related to the
phthalate compounds used to keep PVC flexible. It does not present much of
a problem when used with plain cold water, since it is not very soluble in
water. It does gradually leach out, which is why the bottle gradually
becomes less flexible. Recycle code #3 is PVC (vinyl), which
contains not only phthalates but also a stabilizer, usually organic tin,
which also gradually leaches out. Again, it should not be much of a
problem using plain cold water in these bottles. Try filling either
bottle with very hot water. Smell something? That's the plasticizer
gassing off at higher temperatures. Anything that smells like that
can't be good for you, is how I look at it. PVC is used for athletic
water-packs like the Camelback, and is probably OK if used with cold
water. If the water gets hot, as it might with direct sun exposure,
it may not be such a good idea.
DIALOG WITH INDUSTRY
June 11, 2002: We received a communication from Dominique J.B. Vanpée,
a representative of a very interesting website called http://www.scientecmatrix.com
, based in Antwerp, Belgium. It is affiliated with and sponsored by
several major Belgian academic institutions and a few large corporations
involved with such activities as biotechnology, water quality, and waste
management. The site presents one of the most precisely balanced points of
view I have seen, in maintaining at once a genuinely pro-environment and
technology-friendly attitude. Their long list of articles, for example, on
global warming, present arguments that range from supportive to moderate
to skeptical regarding the impact of man-made greenhouse gases on
environmental change. Since we offer such a comprehensive analysis of PVC,
our attention was called to an interview with Jacques de Gerlache,
toxicologist and communications director for health, safety and
environmental issues with Solvay, the Brussels-based chemical and
pharmaceutical multinational group that is the world's third largest PVC
Not surprisingly, Dr. de Gerlache offers the view that the use of PVC
does not present a problem in any of its applications.
A few of Dr. deGerlache's assertions invite an immediate response.
1. Use of fossil fuels
deGerlache: PVC production also requires relatively little fossil
fuel. In a PVC molecule there is about 40 percent chlorine and 60 percent,
or a little less, hydrocarbon, so it depends less on petrol than other
plastics. The chlorine it contains is mainly made from a simple material:
sea salt, which is abundantly available all over the globe.
Turnertoys: This statement is factual, but overlooks the rather
large energy cost in separating the chlorine from the salt. The
electricity required can, of course, be generated by means other than the
burning of fossil fuels, such as nuclear or hydro.
2. Incineration of chlorine-rich materials and the production of
deGerlache: For quite some time, one believed that burning PVC in
an incinerator would release dioxins. About twenty investigations have
been done in several countries: they all have the same bottom line: the
presence of PVC in the incinerator has no impact on dioxin emissions from
Turnertoys: The material I have read, admittedly none more recent than
the late 1990's, was very equivocal on this point. Some of the data
produced by an exhaustive U.S. Environmental Protection Agency review of
data from many studies indicated that in fact dioxins may be produced in
incinerators in quantities of concern. The issue of combustion is
complicated by the fact that many, if not most incinerators are maintained
and operated in less-than-ideal fashion, including insufficiently high
temperature or oxygen. But the real problem with PVC in regard to
combustion is that a good percentage of burning occurs in accidental
residential or industrial fires. The intensive use of PVC for structural
elements and especially electrical parts and insulation, in combination
with the copper wire that serves as an ideal catalyst for dioxin
formation, resulted in several reports of high concentrations of dioxin
downwind from the site of the accidental fire.
deGerlache: There will be chlorine in the incinerator, due to
kitchen salt and similar substances, and a little more or less chlorine
from PVC will not significantly add to the dioxin emissions, if any.
Turnertoys: I am sorry to have to say that such a statement seems
disingenuous. How much kitchen salt do you throw away each week?
Compared to the significant quantity of PVC that ends up in the waste
stream, the amount of simple inorganic chlorides such as table salt would
have to be unmeasurably small. A lot of PVC is thrown away in
conjunction with construction and renovation of houses and larger
building. When a house gets new siding, the old viny siding is
thrown out, and ends up either in the landfill or the incinerator. A large
source of waste PVC is electric wiring, and here again, it is in intimate
contact with copper, an excellent catalyst for forming dioxins. This is
not to say a state-of-the-art incinerator, perfectly run and maintained,
cannot prevent the emission of dioxins to the atmosphere, but it seems
that in practise most will fail to do this. Dr. deGerlache points
out that a large amount of PVC is used in automobiles, and thus waste from
junk cars is another substantial source of discarded or burned PVC.
NEVER, EVER BURN HOUSEHOLD OR CONSTRUCTION WASTE CONTAINING ANY SORT OF PLASTIC.
PVC, Polyurethane, and other plastics give off highly toxic and potentially deadly gases
3. The use of lead as a stabilizer (Read
our detailed analysis of this topic).
deGerlache: The composition of lead for example is such that it
helps stabilise the PVC, to make it heat resistant. And it allows the
material to keep its specific properties for years on end. A PVC window
frame can be used for fifty or even a hundred years. It need not be
painted and does not require any additional work. The problem, by the way,
is not the mere presence of the metal in the PVC, as it does not
migrate [emphasis added]. The problem is the possible dissemination
into the environment if the PVC waste is not properly managed.
As it became aware of the problems with heavy metals, the industry has
looked for alternative solutions. Some are under way, but of course,
solutions could have an impact on technical performance or overall cost.
Customers will always demand products which are cost competitive. This
means that substitution will take time. For cadmium, alternatives are now
in use everywhere. Cadmium is no longer used as an additive in the PVC
industry. For lead there is a program to progressively eliminate it in PVC
production. The industry has decided to stop using lead by the year 2015
on a voluntary basis.
Turnertoys: I must say I was surprised to see that lead-stabilized
PVC is still in widespread use for construction. I had been under the
impression that it had already been largely replaced by tin compounds,
which is no great reassurance, but better than using lead. The use of lead
is dangerous and absolutely unacceptable! Whether it is extensively used
for architecture in the U.S. as it seems to be in Europe I do not
know. Certainly, its use in fresh-water pipe seems especially
worrisome. According to my investigations, the statement that lead does
not migrate to the surface of PVC is simply factually incorrect. In an
interview with Dr. Russell Composto, School of Engineering and Materials
Science, University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia), I learned that
|"Stabilizers are not chemically bound to the
PVC polymer chains. Only the amount of stabilizers
which reacts with damaged parts of the polymer become chemically
bound. Whether mixed in during formulation, or into the melt
during manufacturing, stabilizer molecules are held in place when
the melt freezes, like objects in an ice cube. Heat
Stabilizers are typically added at the rate of about .5
percent (.005) of the polymer. Metal salts (like lead
carbonate, etc) don't "like" to be mixed into an organic
polymer, and so tend to clump and migrate when the polymer is
heated, or in surface areas subject to weathering and stress.
For this reason, we expect the stabilizer to accumulate on the
surface in normal use, especially if the product is exposed to
heat, stress, or light, particularly direct sunlight.
Smith (1996) cites the leaching of lead from new PVC pipe."
Dr. deGerlache makes some points worth noting. Flexible PVC packaging
(which is never stabilized with lead) is clearly superior for certain
kinds of food packaging, such as for meats and cheeses, and for containers
for whole blood and other medical supplies. There is considerable evidence
that consumers are exposed regularly to phthlalate plasticizers from food
packaging, and that consumers and medical patients do ingest phthalates
from repeated exposures, and that the substance accumulates in body tissue
such as lung, heart, liver, and fat. Whether it is doing any harm is
still an open question. The effects are certain to be subtle and
hard to detect, unlike the obvious and acute effects of lead toxicity.
There is somewhat more reason to be concerned about the ingestion of
phthalates by infants under 12 months of age, based on evidence from
research with rats and mice. It is merely prudent to avoid teethers made
with rubber or any soft plastic, not just vinyl, all of which must
contain some sort of plasticizer which by its nature will be ingested by
Dr. deGerlache's discussion of the recycling possibilities for PVC is
excellent and informative. However, the problem is that at least in the
U.S., very little PVC actually gets recycled. Apparently, Europe is
leading the way in this technology. If it can be done without adding
dangerous pollutants to the environment, then certainly the arguments
against the use of PVC will have been answered to some extent.
However, as always, there is the difference between state-of-the-art
demonstration facilities and the eventual widespread use by less qualified
and less concerned enterprises.
Written by Ed Loewenton, June 11, 2002