An Evaluation of the Hazards of Toys and other Products made from Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)

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1998-1999 18th Century Industries, Inc.  
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A note to the reader:    Our  purpose on these pages is to  supply thoroughly researched background material, so that you will come away with a real understanding of the issue, and will be able to make your own decisions based on that understanding.   We strongly suggest you take the time to  read through the "Summary & Recommendations"  before following any links to other pages or references.    We think you will gain the best overview of the subject in the shortest time, and you will probably find most of your basic questions answered in this way.   

Organization of the material:  We first present a summary of what we have learned about Polyvinyl Chloride, and the conclusions we draw.  We then offer practical recommendations.  Any questions that may arise, such as "Why?" or "How do you know that?" may then be answered by reading the following sections of detailed information.  For more perspective, including other views of the topic, follow appropriate links to references  at the end of this article.
We cover the hazards of PVC in three sections:  
*Metal stabilizers of PVC, emphasizing Lead stabilizers and lead toxicology;  
*Plasticizers, primarily Phthalates;
*Other hazards, including Vinyl Chloride Monomer, and the results of uncontrolled (i.e., backyard    and accidental) burning of PVC wastes.  
  General environmental problems, including Dioxins, are beyond the scope of this presentation.

Sources: News releases from the Arizona and North Carolina Departments of Health;  The analysis of Lead in toys published by Greenpeace ; Documents from the US CPSC, Environ Corporation, Health Canada, and Dutch National Institute of Public Health;    Graduate level texts on the chemical engineering of of Polymers, specifically PVC; journal articles in the medical literature on the topics of Lead and Phthalate toxicity; various papers commissioned by the plastics industry evaluating the environmental problems of PVC.  Specific references follow at the end of this section.

Summary and Conclusions

Phthalates
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, all categories of 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 it occurs, and because it is fat soluble, is 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 do not metabolize Phthalates as well as adults, and so are at greater risk of harm.  The common availability of Phthalates   in the consumer environment causes inevitable chronic ingestion for almost all modern industrial consumers. 
[More detail below]

Lead
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.  
[More detail below]
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.  
[Read  an example below]

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.

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.

Recommendations
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 [More detail below].    Other avoidable sources of lead include:
*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.)
Because lead stored in bone becomes available during pregnancy and lactation,  female children are at particular long-term risk from lead ingestion.

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.    It does not seem to us that current technology and the modern economy could do entirely without the use of PVC; but some present applications would be better served by some other material.   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.

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...

What is PVC? 
Polyvinyl Chloride is a polymer, or large chain-like molecule, made up of repeating units of Vinyl Chloride (a monomer).   Commonly referred to as Vinyl or PVC, it is exceeded only by  polypropylene and polyethylene in the variety of  products which are made from it.   Other common commercial polymers used for familiar products are  polyurethane and polystyrene.   We find PVC in car interiors and trim, wall coverings, floor tiles, window frames, siding, water and sewer pipes, shrink wrap, packaging (including blister packs and food wraps), medical equipment   (tubing, transfusion bags, blood storage bags, respiration tubes),  electric and electronic cable insulation, textiles, both as trim and complete garments - and Toys.   PVC can be a tough, rigid material, or soft and flexible, depending on the use of additives.  It is denser than other plastics, and so preferred by food processors for packaging.  Additives include anti-oxidants (heat and light stabilizers) to extend the life of the plastic, and plasticizers to allow a precise degree of flexibility.
All polymers, in a perfectly pure state, at room temperature, are completely non-toxic, since they are nearly inert and insoluble.   However, all commercial polymers require a variety of additives.   They all undergo degradation and decomposition when exposed to heat during formulation or molding into products.  They also tend to break down when subject to the mechanical stress of molding or extrusion.  Finally, all products made from polymers are degraded by the light, heat, stress, and air pollution encountered in everyday use.  For this reason, one or more stabilizers are required for each type of plastic.

Stabilizers in PVC:    PVC has the special problem of forming HCl (Hydrochloric Acid) when it degrades, which causes a chain reaction which proceeds rapidly to complete loss of strength (and causes damage to manufacturing equipment).   The stabilizers for PVC have thus mostly been metal salts, which could react with the HCl.  These have included Lead, Cadmium, Barium, Calcium, Zinc, and organic Tin compounds.  The first two are known poisons.  It appears that Cadmium is not much used any more.  There are varying accounts in the literature we have seen concerning the prevalence of Lead as a stabilizer.  According to an Australian document dated 1996, it is still quite widely used.  
Lead is not used where a clear Vinyl is required.  Window covering, food packages, tubing, etc, use Organic Tin Compounds (Organotins) or Calcium/Zinc.  There have been some findings linking Organotins to Reproductive and immune system problems.  A compound similar to ones used in PVC is used in marine antifouling paint, and has been blamed for  destruction of marine life in harbours.  Australia has banned the use of of this Organotin. 

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.

Availability of Lead in Toys:  In 1995,  the Arizona Department of Health Services, responding to the lead poisoning of children in situations where no obvious source existed, found the source to be rigid Vinyl miniblinds in the children's rooms.   There were very large amounts of lead dust on the PVC blinds, as well as lead dust on the windowsills below. Two of the children had been chewing on the blinds themselves.   At first, the CPSC declined to identify the blinds as a hazard, but in June 1996 they agreed to do so.    Subsequently, sampling in North Carolina found miniblinds to be a lead hazard, with surface lead dust exceeding federal standards by as much as 100-fold.  No formal recall was ever issued, despite vigorous urgings by the authorities of both states.  The Window Covering Safety Council, throughout all this, put out press releases reassuring consumers that the lead found in the blinds did not constitute a hazard to children. 

Motivated by this finding, Greenpeace collected some popular  mass-market PVC toys, and contracted with two independent  laboratories to test for the presence of lead.   In short, they found that about 20 percent of the toys tested contained Lead, Cadmium, or both.  In many of the toys, the levels were high enough to exceed federal guidelines.  They repeated this process in several major U.S. urban areas, with similar results.  Their complete report is provided on this website (from link in section below).   The CPSC performed a small-scale replication of the study. They obtained roughly similar results, but concluded that the lead found on the surface of the tested toys did not constitute a health hazard to children.  Their conclusion was based on assumptions, definitions,  and interpretations, rather than substantially different quantitative findings. 
CPSC concluded that Greenpeace mis-interpreted its own results, by making errors in basic science, and wrong assumptions about children's behavior. They concluded the products tested, even ones containing Lead, were not hazardous to children, because the daily dosage of poisons ingested were below hazardous levels. Health Canada performed a similar evaluation, with identical conclusions and interpretation.   Environ Corporation, a think-tank hired by the Vinyl Industry Association, offered similar "findings", although did no actual laboratory work.  These reports are also posted on this website (see "links" below).    
  CPSC,  Environ, and Health Canada, criticized the Greenpeace study principally on four grounds:
1. Accelerated aging tests using  exposure to ultraviolet light were not valid, because the toys tested by Greenpeace would not be exposed to ultraviolet radiation in normal use, unlike the miniblinds in the sunny windows.   
2. Great variations in city-to-city lead measurements, and variations from the CPSC results for the same toy indicates defects in Greenpeace's laboratory procedures.
3. A criticism of the Greenpeace study is inherent in CPSC's decision not to test the lead content of the electronic cables tested by Greenpeace, on the basis that children would not be expected to handle this material.
4. Estimates of amounts of lead a child would ingest by handling these toys were in error, since a child would not handle the entire object at once. Thus, amount of lead dust per unit area are a more correct measure than total dust on surface of item.   Assuming certain values for a child's hand size, amount of daily handling,   and correlations of blood levels with amounts ingested, the critics concluded that the resulting blood   lead levels would remain below established Federal standard of 10g/dl. 
Responding to the first comment:
The critics are incorrect on a point of basic scientific information, and deficient in simple observations of child behavior and demographics.  The miniblinds were exposed to light transmitted through glass, as well as the resulting heat.  "Glass in general is opaque to the ultraviolet and infrared". (Physics and Chemistry Handbook, 1964 edition ).  Carbon-carbon  and carbon-hydrogen bonds are broken far more readily by shorter than by longer wavelengths.  Any toy likely to be played with outdoors, or inadvertently left outside, would receive far more short wavelength   ultraviolet light,  available only in direct sunlight.  A number of the toys analyzed by Greenpeace are in that category; some might even be used as beach toys.    In a large sub-tropical  metropolis like Los Angeles or Miami,  the rapid disintegration of sun-exposed PVC, as well as rubber and other polymers,  is a familiar problem. 
Responding to the second comment:   The analysis was not performed by Greenpeace, but by two accredited and professionally staffed labs, specializing in lead analysis. The variations in percent lead content are far more likeley due to poor quality control at the manufacturing plants which processed the PVC resin. The very highest numbers, well over the theoretically useful quantities for metal salt stabilizers, are probably just due to gross over-use of the additives, which is something that would occur on a random basis.
Responding to the omission of testing of cable insulation:  It is not productive to make such assumptions about children's behavior.  Children can, and eventually will, handle everything in their daily surroundings.  We have an article   from Centers for Disease Control reporting the severe lead poisoning of adult electronics worker  who had developed the habit of chewing on lead-stabilized   PVC electric insulation.  Lead hazard is thus not just a problem for children; but the point is that children are especially at risk, due to their unpredictable behavior and greater sensitivity to the toxic effects of lead.

Responding to the fourth criticism, we consider the toxicology of Lead:    In short, the daily intake of lead is not as important a determinant of ultimate harm as is the duration of exposure and the total lead ingested over time.  This is due to the cumulative nature of lead toxicity.  Lead at very low blood levels causes a very wide variety of changes in neural functioning.  It interferes with transmission of nerve signals both by disruption of Calcium ion balance along the nerve axon, and at the synapse, by bonding to Calcium receptor  sites.   Lead can modify gene expression and gene-regulated protein synthesis.  Lead exposure interferes in a variety of ways with the developing brain at the neuroanatomical level.  Prolonged exposure to low levels of lead changes the response of various neurotransmitter systems.  Consistent and reproducible behavioral effects have been seen with blood lead levels as low as 7 g/dl (micrograms of lead per tenth liter of blood), which is below the Federal standard of 10 g/dl.  
The CPSC suggests in its report that  "chronic ingestion of lead be limited to 15g per day" to prevent children of 6 years and younger from exceeding the 10 g/dl  blood lead level.  It is not clear from the CPSC report how the daily ingestion rate translates to the suggested maximum blood level. 
In any case, there is good reason to assert that the daily intake of lead for a child is not relevant to a discussion of the hazards of the material.  Lead is a uniquely cumulative poison.  Some of the kinds of neurological damage caused by lead are not reversible.  The period from 1 to 3 years of age in humans is critical for lead exposure, and neural damage occuring during this period is least likely to be reversible.  
Most important, children  excrete lead very slowly.  Lead behaves chemically very much like Calcium, and is similarly stored in bone.   Bone is in a dynamic equilibrium, biologically and chemically, with blood.  If the rate of lead intake is reduced, lead will enter blood from bone.  Thus, a daily exposure, however low, builds up a "savings account" of lead, which may persist for decades.   During periods of high calcium demand, as in lactation and pregnancy, lead enters the blood along with the calcium.  In older people, when bone mass is reduced by resorption, higher lead levels have been observed.  This is especially true of post-menopausal women, who are greater risk of osteoporosis.  (It thus seems that female children  are at particular risk from lead ingestion.)
It is also important to be aware that the lead available from the tested products would not be the only source of exposure in a child's environment.  Although substantial and very successful efforts have been made in the past twenty years to reduce environmental lead (removal of lead paint and banning its use in most applications, the elimination of leaded gasoline and lead plumbing solder), there are still other sources of lead exposure.  Due to the years of environmental accumulation, children are still exposed to other sources of lead beside toys.  Since all lead exposure is additive as well as cumulative, it is important to eliminate any source of exposure when it is within our power to do so.
For these reasons, we feel it is reasonable to assert that the series of calculations presented by CPSC to arrive at the conclusion that the lead found in some toys is not a hazard, is not helpful in ensuring safety for children.


Phthalate Plasticizers
The PVC polymer chains form an attraction to one another which produces a very rigid plastic.  When a soft or flexible plastic is required, a plasticizer is added to allow the chains to slide against each other.  Phthalates are the most commonly used in PVC.  DEHP (Di-Ethylhexyl Phthalate) has been the most commonly used, but in the past few years, DINP (Di-Isononyl  Phthalate) has been used more frequently.      Semi-rigid PVC contains about 10 percent phthalates; flexible PVC, as much as 50 percent by weight. 
Phthalates migrate easily out of the PVC polymer, since it is not at all bound to the PVC molecule. DEHP is nearly insoluble in water, but highly soluble in fats and oils.   When used in medical tubing, it has been found to accumulate in blood, lung, and liver tissue, as well as in fat.  In fatty foods, such as butter, cheese, and prepared meat products packaged in PVC, significant amounts of DEHP or DINP have been found in surface layers.  DEHP does not vaporize easily at room temperature, but does migrate out of the plastic as a vapor over 30 C  (86 F),  and has been found in the airstream of medical respiratory tubing.  Under relatively slight pressure, phthalates will exude from PVC.  As little as 1/10 kilogram per square centimeter (1.4 lb/sq. inch) can result in loss of 30% of the plasticizer.  (PVC Handbook,  from C. P. Hall, plasticizer manufacturer). 

Phthalate Toxicity
The CPSC and the Dutch government, in laboratory simulations of children's sucking and chewing behavior, have recently concluded that although children using PVC teethers would indeed swallow significant amounts of Phthalates, these amounts are too small on a daily basis to present a hazard.   
Again, the issue is the cumulative nature of the toxic effects.  Studies of liver damage in rats have been criticized as inapplicable to humans, since the kinds of pre-cancerous cellular changes  (peroxisomes)  seen in rats with experimental short-term high dosage does not cause the same changes in humans or other primates.   But in fact, the changes do occur in primates, including humans; it just takes longer.  Dialysis patients using PVC tubing showed peroxisomes after a year of treatment.    Clear signs of liver damage were seen in monkeys receiving transfusions over the period of a year.    In a discussion of Phthalate toxicity, it is worth quoting verbatim one of our sources [Ganning A.E., Brunk U., Dallner J. (1984)  Phthalate Esters and their Effect on the Liver.  Hepatology V4 No 3, Pp 541-547]

"Monkeys transfused weekly for 1 year with blood stored in PVC bags accumulated and stored these substances in various tissues over a long period of time.  Analyses of liver, heart, testis and fat show appreciable amounts of phthalates at 5 and 14 months after termination of regular transfusions."  No detailed analysis of phthalate ester accumulation in humans is available. DEHP was identified in fat tissue of people who were autopsied after traffic accidents.  After extensive transfusion of pediatric patients, liver and lungs contained relatively high, and kidney and spleen had relatively low, amounts of DEHP at postmortem"
"The acute toxicity of phthalate esters is low and human consumption of gram quantities is without any major adverse effects.  All observations so far made in this field suggest a slowly increasing chronic toxicity...  Reviewing the literature, it is striking that many investigators do not consider the time factor;  to reach appropriate results, many cases require a long observation period.   ...cumulative toxic effect [was] demonstrated in several investigations.  If the 50% lethal dose is established for a laboratory animal and the administration of phthalate esters is continued, the intermittent dose necessary to reach the level of 50% lethal dose decreases gradually. This decrease is substantial and ranges between 5- and 40-fold.  This means, theoretically, that even very low doses may, after continuous administration, reach toxic levels."

"Chronic intake and accumulation to a deleterious level may require 30 to 40 years.   We have reason top believe that accumulating toxicity is valid for humans.   Therefore, threshold valuesrecommended by authorities as nontoxic have little or no relevance.  Extensive use of PVC materials in homes, medical care, and as food packaging material started only during the 1960's, which means that evaluation of chronic human toxicity cannot be performed until  around  2000 to 2020!..."

This last paragraph suggests that by now (1999), we ought to be seeing an epidemic of liver disease and other illnesses related to the significant chronic exposure of modern industrial populations to Phthalates.  There is no question that we are eating a lot of the stuff;  there does remain the question of whether, in fact,  it has actually done any harm to adults. 

The evidence is stronger that phthalates are a danger to young infants.  In a 1988 German study, preterm infants receiving respiratory assistance utilizing PVC tubing accumulated significant amounts of DEHP in their lungs,  developing unusual lung disorders resembling hyaline membrane disease.   The authors make the point that the livers of very young infants do not metabolize DEHP as efficiently as those of adults, placing infants at higher risk.  They further suggest that the damage to testicular and related structures seen in rats may be more relevant to preterm infants than to adult humans, again because of slower/less complete metabolism. 


REFERENCES and LINKS (return to website to access linked documents and pages referred to below)

PVC Technical references
E.D. Owen, ed. Degradation & Stabilization of PVC  Elsevier, London 1984

N. Grassie, G. Scott Polymer Degradation & Stabilization.   Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge 1985
        "[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." 

W. Ttsch, H.Gaensslen Polyvinylchloride: Environmental Aspects of a Common Plastic. Elsevier, London  1990

Matthews, George  PVC: Production, Properties, and Uses. The Institute of Materials 1996 ISBN 0 901716 59 6 University Press, Cambridge

M. Sittig, Ed. Vinyl Chloride and PVC Manufacture: Process and Environmental Aspects. Noyes Data Corp., Park Ridge, NJ  1978

Dr. Russell Composto, School of Engineering and Materials Science, University of Pennsylvania:  Private communication.

Lead Toxicity
Deborah A. Cory-Slechta, Joel G. Pounds  Lead Neurotoxicity  in   L.W. Chang, R.S. Dyer, ed., Handbook of Neurotoxicology.  Marcel Dekker, Inc  New York 1995

Dr. Deborah A. Corey Slechta,  Department of Environmental Medicine, Univ. of Rochester School of Medicine, Rochester, NY:  Private Communication.

Findings of Lead in PVC toys:
THE GREENPEACE STUDIES FINDING  CADMIUM & LEAD IN VINYL

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)

Phthalates
Ganning A.E., Brunk U., Dallner J. (1984)  Phthalate Esters and their Effect on the Liver.  Hepatology V4 No 3, Pp 541-547

B. Roth and others, "Di-(2-ethylhexyl)-pththalate as plasticizer in PVC respiratory tubing systems: indications of hazardous effects on pulmonary function in mechanically ventilated, preterm infants," EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF PEDIATRICS Vol. 147 (1988), pgs. 41-46.

Jacobson M.S., Kevy S.V., Grand R.J. (1977) Effects of Plasticizer leached from polyvinyl chloride on the subhuman primate: a consequence of chronic transfusion therapy.  J. Lab. Clin. Med., 89: 1066-1079 [Applicability of rhesus monkey data to humans is established;  after 1 year chronic infusion with PVC blood bags, clear signs of change in liver function and cell damage in rhesus monkey are seen]

More on Phthalates: TOXICOLOGY AND POLITICS

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

Vinyl Industry response to evaluations of Phthalate toxicity

MORE ON PHTHALATE PLASTICIZERS 

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

 ORGANOTIN TOXICITY STUDIES: REFERENCES

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. 

DIOXINS AND ENVIRONMENTAL SAFETY...

Authorship of material


Attribution and Authorship
These pages were compiled by Ed Loewenton, president of 18th Century Industries, Inc., corporate  parent of the Elwood Turner Company, which owns and maintains the turnertoys.com website.

Mr. Loewenton also wrote all the commentary not attributed to Greenpeace or to other research or academic resources.  Mr. Loewenton received an MS in Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1969, and received 16 credits toward a doctorate.   He was a Chemistry minor as an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania.   His course work included five semesters of chemistry, including two of organic; with a total of 4 semesters in the laboratory.  As an undergraduate, he worked as a research assistant in the clinical chemistry department of the University of Pennsylvania Hospital (Spruce Street), working on serum protein electrophoresis.  His studies also include four semesters of statistics.  He has published two studies in the field of Psychology: one in the field of Economic Psychology (senior authorship), the other (third of five authors) on attitude formation.  As a graduate student he did unpublished research on collective behavior and physiology of REM sleep in newborn mammals. He worked briefly as a senior staff Psychologist at Pennhurst State Hospital, where he evaluated staff performance (including that of Psychiatric and Medical personnel) and designed behavior modification programs.  It is Mr. Loewenton's assertion that he is fully capable of  evaluating the research, assumptions, and arguments in the present issue, albeit with continuing background study, in which he is engaged as time permits.

The Greenpeace material on Lead and Cadmium was researched and written by Joseph Di Gangi, PhD and his associates.  Dr.DiGangi  is an employee of Greenpeace, and has facilities in Chicago.  Dr.  Di Gangi provided us with additional material and clarifications via email.  Dr. Di Gangi received a PhD in molecular biology and biochemistry from the University of California at Irvine in 1986, and joined the Greenpeace staff in 1997. The material on Phthalates comes from a variety of sources (authorship specified in each article)..  Three laboratory sources were used for Greenpeace's  work on vinyl toys. The lead/cadmium experimental work was conducted entirely by independent laboratories. 
*Phthalates: Greenpeace Research Laboratories, University of Exeter,   Department of Biological Sciences, Exeter, UK. Greenpeace laboratory with expertise in analysis of organic chemicals and metals.
*Lead and cadmium: Stat Analysis, Chicago, IL. AIHA and NVLAP accredited. Commercial analytical laboratory that peforms work for lead abatement companies and the Chicago Public Schools.
*Lead and cadmium: Environmental Quality Institute, (EQI) University of North Carolina-Asheville. AIHA, NVLAP, ILLAP accredited. One of the foremost lead research laboratories in the U.S. with numerous research projects conducted for the EPA, Attorney General of California, Centers for Disease Control, State of North Carolina, and City of New York.    BACK TO TOP OF PAGE

DIOXIN INTRODUCED INTO THE ENVIRONMENT BY POLYVINYL CHLORIDE MANUFACTURE, DISPOSAL (INCLUDING CONTROLLED COMBUSTION), AND UNCONTROLLED COMBUSTION (ACCIDENTAL FIRES). 9/12/98.
    We have a copy of the EPA's report of environmental sources of Dioxin, and the EPA study on the  mechanisms and extent of biological damage caused by Dioxin. In brief, dioxin is uniquely harmful to mammalian biology, causing cellular changes with even an initial exposure to very small amounts of the toxin.  It appears that cells may actually have dioxin "receptors", which cause them to undergo changes with even the most minimal exposure.  These changes may result in cancer and other disorders.    Releases of dioxin to the environment occur primarily from the high-temperature heating or high energy oxidation of organic molecules in the presence of chlorine, in various forms, including (apparently) Sodium Chloride or other non-toxic inorganic chlorides.  For examples, the burning of wood results in significant release of dioxin only when the wood has been soaked in sea-water.    An experimental burn of PVC resulted in comparatively high yields of dioxin; downwind measurement of soot and ash from building fires of structures using significant amounts of PVC indicated significant levels of dioxin.  Other meaningful sources identified included waste disposal incinerators, and cement kilns burning waste.   Presumably, either some sort of organochlorine compounds were included in these fuels, or organic compounds with some source of chlorine. 
    Regarding the release of Dioxin from the manufacture of PVC, the testing to date, cited in the 1998 EPA document, has been done either by Greenpeace or by the Vinyl Institute (or as studies commissioned by the two groups).  Methodology is not given.  The V.I found very little dioxin (in fact, they claim that the entire PVC industry generates less than a teaspoonful annually); Greenpeace claims far higher numbers.  .The numbers provided by Greenpeace and the Vinyl Institute differ by such a huge margin that neither can be accepted as a final determination of fact, unless and until backed up with more information.
    I found it disturbing that the EPA report on sources, running to over 500 pages, gives rather little space to PVC manufacture or disposal as a source. 

DETERMINATION OF THE COMPOSITION AND QUANTITIES OF PHTHALATE ESTER ADDITIVES IN PVC CHILDREN'S TOYS  Written by Ruth Stringer, Irina Labounskaia, Dr. David Santillo, Dr. Paul Johnston, John Siddorn, and Angela Stephenson (BACK)
PVC (polyvinyl chloride or vinyl) is widely used in toys and other children's products. For soft applications, such as toys designed for chewing ("teethers"), softeners or plasticisers are added to give the desired flexibility. Although a range of chemicals are used as softeners, phthalate esters (phthalates) are by far the most commonly used.

Phthalates do not bind to the PVC, remaining present as a freely mobile and leachable phase in the plastic. As a consequence, phthalates are continuously lost from soft PVC over time. Contact and pressure, such as that applied during teething or play, can increase the rates at which these chemicals leach from the plastic. [The "PVC Handbook" from C. P. Hall, manufacturer of Phthalates and other plasticizers, includes data showing that plasticizers are exuded from the polymer under a minimum of pressure: .1 kg/cm2 can cause a loss of up to 30% of the plasticizer]

Children in contact with soft PVC toys may, therefore, ingest substantial quantities of phthalates during normal play, especially from toys specifically designed to be chewed. This is of concern as phthalates are known to present a number of hazards. Although acute toxicity appears to be low, phthalates have been shown to cause a range of adverse effects in laboratory animals following longer exposure, including damage to the liver and kidney and, in some cases, effects on the reproductive tract.

The limited research available to date on the composition of phthalates in PVC toys has raised concerns over the potential for exposure of children to these chemicals. Despite this, manufacturers do not provide information on the types or quantities of additives present in toys. Greenpeace was interested, therefore, to obtain a range of typical soft PVC toys from a number of countries, particularly those designed to be chewed, and to determine the types and quantities of plasticisers present.

A total of 71 toys were purchased, drawn from 17 countries, the majority of which (63) were PVC or had PVC sections. In almost all soft PVC toys analysed, phthalates comprised a sizeable proportion (most frequently 10-40%) of the total weight of the toy. Although historically the most commonly used phthalate was DEHP (di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate), the most frequently identified, and generally most abundant, phthalate in the current investigation was the isomeric form DINP (diisononyl phthalate). Of the 63 PVC toys analysed, 40 contained DINP as the predominant phthalate, compared to only 8 for DEHP. DEHP was also present as a minor component of many of the toys containing DINP, perhaps as a contaminant in the DINP. Of the 8 non-PVC toys analysed, only one contained any detectable phthalate, and then only in trace quantities (possibly as a contaminant from the PVC in which it was packaged).

Although less well researched than DEHP, DINP shows similar toxicological properties in laboratory animals. Effects recorded include liver and kidney disorders, damage to the reproductive tract, increased incidence of certain forms of cancer and diverse effects on development and metabolism. More recently, research has revealed that DINP, along with some other phthalates, shows weak activity as a mimic of the hormone estrogen in human cell lines. When purchased for laboratory use, DINP is labelled with a number of hazard phrases, including "harmful by inhalation, in contact with skin and if swallowed", "possible risk of irreversible effects" and "may cause cancer". In contrast, toys containing up to 40% by weight DINP in a readily leachable form are frequently labelled "non toxic".

A number of other compounds were identified in some of the toys, generally at lower but significant concentrations. DBP (dibutyl phthalate) and BBP (butylbenzyl phthalate), found in several toys, are known to be particularly hazardous. The estrogenic chemical nonylphenol was isolated from 13 toys, while 2 toys were found to contain the fungicide Fungitrol 11 (Folpet).

The rates at which chemicals leach from soft PVC were not determined in this study. Nevertheless, the presence of these chemicals in such quantities in toys designed to be chewed by babies and young children, along with published evidence that such additives are hazardous and can leach from PVC toys, raises serious concerns. The Danish EPA has recently demonstrated that the leaching of phthalates, particularly DINP, from teething toys can be substantial. This has been supported by similar studies in other countries and has led, in some cases, to recommendations that certain toys be withdrawn or even that the use of soft PVC in toys for young children should be discontinued.

The study carried out by Greenpeace has demonstrated that phthalates, particularly DINP and DEHP, are widely and abundantly used in high contact children's toys. Their use represents a significant potential for exposure of children to chemical hazards, of particular concern during sensitive periods of development. Although it is practically impossible to make accurate predictions of dose, exposure to such hazards is clearly unacceptable. The only way to avoid direct intake of phthalates is to eliminate the use of PVC in all soft toy applications.   (BACK)
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A letter from Hasbro Corporation, Pawtucket, RI

May 19, 1998
Ms. Anette McCullough
Kids Stuff Catalog Co
4450 Belden Village St NW
Canton, OH  44718

Dear Ms.`McCullough:

We are in receipt of your request for a list of products containing PVC. Unfortunately, it is our policy not to divulge proprietary information in regard to the manufacturing materials and processes used on our products.  Of course, as a valued customer of Hasbro, we would like to assure you that we conduct stringent testing and analysis on products, materials,and the process that we use to make those products before we ship them to our customers.

...It has been our conclusion, as well as that of the toxicologist that we use to evaluate our products, and, I might add, that of the United States Consumer Products Safety Commission, that the evidence does not indicate that PVC or the Phthalaes used in PVC are acute or chronic threats to users' health.  We have had a policy for many years not to use lead and cadmium, as well as other heavy metals in our products.  ...

...The toy industry, in general, has been concerned with the information that has been disseminated on the issue of PVC, and has for the past two years had a task force that has reviewed and evaluated the issue....

Sincerely,

PLAYSKOOL BABY, INC.
Malcolm J. Dennis
Senior Vice President
Quality Assurance                                

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