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An Evaluation of the Hazards of Toys and other Products made from Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
Summary and Conclusions:
                 Phthalates, Lead,  other  hazardsrecommendations   
October, 2005 
Important Update: Comparing the safety of all materials used for food and water

PVC Home Page

Lead in PVC
(What is vinyl plastic?)

Easy-to-print version of this report (26 sec @ 28k)

Summary & conclusions

Easy-to-print version of this report (26 sec @ 28k)

July, 2002: Recent questions from our email inbox
Also -interview with a vinyl industry spokesperson. Read our comments!

Phthalate Plasticizers

Other hazards


Authorship of this material

Links to other documents on this website

Most recent list of toys made with PVC (March 1999)

Update, Jan. '99:
Lead, Cadmium, Phthalates still found in Children's Products


Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC, or Vinyl) is one of the most commonly used materials in the consumer marketplace.  We find it in packaging, construction and automotive material, and in a wide varieyy of consumer products, including toys and medical equipment.   PVC contains Phthalates, which accumulate in body tissues, and can damage liver, lungs, and have been shown in lower mammals to damage reproductive organs.   Phthalates are freely given off by plastics in which they occur. Because they are fat soluble, they are found in quantity in meats and cheeses wrapped in PVC packaging.     Although Phthalates show almost no toxicity in adult humans in acute (short term) doses, even at high doses,  the cumulative nature of phthalate toxicity results in toxic effects even at very low dosage when ingested chronically (over a long period of time).   Very young infants may be at greater risk of harm, especially to the male reproductive system.  The common availability of Phthalates  in the consumer environment causes inevitable chronic ingestion for almost all modern industrial consumers. 
[More detail]

A minority of popular mass-market children's products have been found to contain lead.  The lead becomes available as dust on the product surface  as the product ages.  Lead is a cumulative poison, is stored in bone, and results in irreversible nervous system damage when ingested by young children, particularly ages 1 to 3.   Extremely low blood levels have been reliably correlated with behavioral deficits in humans, as well as biochemical changes.  No level of chronic lead intake may be regarded as safe for children.  
It is not obvious from the product or packaging which PVC juvenile products contain lead and which do not.  In fact, it is not always easy to tell by looking which plastic products are made of PVC.  There is tendency of manufacturers to resist efforts to obtain this information.  

In place of lead, most PVC uses organic tin compounds (Organotins), which are suspected of having harmful effects on immune and reproductive systems.   We have not personally read  research indicating significant availability for ingestion of Organotins on product surfaces.   ORGANOTIN TOXICITY STUDIES: REFERENCES

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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)
     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 dishware. 
*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 lead ingestion.

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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 body tissues.
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:

"[Dehydrochlorination thermal 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)

And finally:
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?   Details follow...
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Links to additional documents on this website

Findings of Lead in PVC toys:

Environ 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)


Dutch Government study attempts to replicate and quantify infant exposure to Phthalates from teething toys

(U.S.) EPA Fact sheet on DEHP in Drinking Water

Chlorine Industry response to evaluations of Phthalate toxicity

Other Topics
Vinyl Chloride Monomer (VCM) Drinking Water Fact Sheet (U.S. EPA report)


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 plant construction. 


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