It must be noted that all
common commercial plastics, and other polymers, including rubber, contain
additives, the safety of which we have not reviewed for this report.
Vinyl Chloride Monomer
VCM does not, theoretically, occur in PVC polymer produced with perfect quality
control. However, this highly toxic and carcinogenic compound has been found to be a
trace component of PVC. There have been reports of VCM detected in drinking
water that has been standing for a period of time in PVC water pipe. The main
risk of VCM, however, has been found to be primarily to workers in plants producing VCM or
producing PVC resin from the VCM monomer; and also to people living close to
such plants. Exposure hazard to workers, neighbors, and users of PVC products is not
theoretically inherent in the process, but in fact occurs due to inevitable lapses in
production quality control and housekeeping.
For these reasons, we recommend that toys or other items
containing Vinyl not be used for children under three years of age, during which
period children tend to mouth or chew non-food objects. Further, we recommend that
consumers attempt to ascertain which PVC products used for older children, or, for that
matter, present in the home environment, contain lead, and dispose of those items. Other avoidable sources of lead include:
*lead glazes used in "hobby" ceramics (don't eat from utensils made with these
materials). Lead glazes are also used in some cheaper imported ceramic
*lead seals on older wine bottles (wash off the neck before popping the cork, wipe out the
inside of the neck, and discard the top ounce) (If it melts easily, it's lead.)
*lead paint on old houses, old furniture, old radiators, etc. A
good solid coat of new paint is often the safest quick fix. Removal of
old paints may be hazardous, and should be done with protective equipment or
by qualified professionals.
Because lead stored in bone becomes available during
pregnancy and lactation, female children are at particular long-term risk from
No conclusion can yet be drawn
about the harm phthalates cause to children, but there is a mass of suggestive
evidence that these chemicals can cause serious harm as they accumulate in
To reduce exposure to Phthalates, we
recommend that consumers wash with fairly hot water the top layers of packaged cheeses and
meats, and store them in polypropylene or polyethylene bags or containers, or preferably
in glass and ceramic. Vinyl utensils should not be used for hot foods, particularly
infant feeding, since warming increases emissions of phthalates. Medical
patients, particularly those undergoing transfusion and dialysis, should inquire if
tubing and other equipment not made from PVC is available.
We would like to see manufacturers of PVC
products identify the products as such; and also to identify the percentage of hazardous
ingredients such as lead or Phthalates when present. This would actually serve to
incease consumer confidence in such products, since use of them would be a conscious and
informed choice, and the products could be used where necessary and appropriate.
Many present applications would be better served
by some other material, and in fact during the past year a growing number of
manufacturers have announced that they are using or planning to use other
polymers in place of PVC. One of the latest (as of Nov., 1999) is Ford
Motor Co, who is planning to switch to other plastics for car interiors. Faith in the genius of technology also suggests that
polymers can be designed with PVC's good traits, and without its dangers. We see the
problem for the industry as one of quality control and chemical engineering, not one of
spin control and public relations.
It just seems impractical to use a material that requires so much assistance
from potentially harmful additives in order to function properly. The
following quote says it nicely:
degradation] reaction occurs so readily, that it has been said that if
poly(vinyl) chloride had not been discovered until the present time it would
have been discarded after preliminary assessment as unsuitable for
commercial development in competition with existing materials." (N. Grassie, G. Scott Polymer Degradation & Stabilization.
Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge 1985)
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
when burned at low temperature.
How do we know all this?
Links to additional documents on this
Findings of Lead in PVC toys:
THE GREENPEACE STUDIES FINDING CADMIUM & LEAD IN VINYL
Corp. comments on the original Greenpeace Lead/Cadmium study
CPSC Replication of
Greenpeace Lead/Cadmium study
Lead intoxication associated with chewing plastic wire coating. Kelley, M.,
Watson, P., Thorton, D., and Halpin, T. J. Morbidity and Mortality
Weekly Report 42:465-467. 1993
LIST OF INFANT TOYS (INCLUDING TEETHERS) MADE FROM PVC, AND TOYS MADE FROM OTHER PLASTICS
(Compiled by Greenpeace in 1997. This list may be
out-of-date. Inclusion in this list does not indicate whether or
not any specific toy contains lead or cadmium)
More on Phthalates: TOXICOLOGY AND POLITICS
Government study attempts to replicate and quantify infant exposure to Phthalates from
Fact sheet on DEHP in Drinking Water
response to evaluations of Phthalate toxicity
Monomer (VCM) Drinking Water Fact Sheet (U.S. EPA report)
ORGANOTIN TOXICITY STUDIES: REFERENCES
Most recent list of toys made with PVC (March 1999)
Update, Jan. '99:
Lead, Cadmium, Phthalates still found in Children's Products
VARIOUS REACTIONS TO THE GREENPEACE STUDIES ON PVC TOYS: NIKE'S OFFICIAL ANNOUNCEMENT, MORE ACTION IN EUROPE.
Comment by scientists and health
professionals; response from the toy industry and the Consumer Product Safety
Commisssion; rebuttals by the Environmental Quality Institute (Testing
lab) and Greenpeace; letter to V.P. Al Gore, signed by over 20 health
professionals; Austria bans PVC toys; Nike eliminates PVC from products and
DIOXINS AND ENVIRONMENTAL SAFETY...
TOXICOLOGY, PREVALANCE, AND POLITICS OF PHTHALATES