There is a social black cloud surrounding the use of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a type of plastic used to make everyday products. When produced or burned, PVC releases several toxins into the air, which can potentially harm our immune and reproductive systems.
PVC is used in the construction of everything from pipes to pool toys, and is easy to spot (check any plastic product for a recycling symbol with the number the three in it). Companies like Microsoft and Mattel have abolished the use of PVC in their packaging for years now, but it’s still one of the most widely used plastics in North America.
The presence of PVC in toys has been of high concern for parents over the past several years. Parents very rarely check to see if toys they purchase for their children contain PVC, and therefore many children are unknowingly exposed to phthalates, which are used to soften PVC to make it more durable, when chewing on a toy. Though the exact effect is unknown, young people would be more prone to any sort of health issue caused by phthalates.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recently begun cracking down on companies that irresponsibly handle PVC. In early December, the EPA and the Justice Department came to a $12 million settlement with Shintech Inc., the largest manufacturer of PVC in the U.S., and it’s subsidiary K-Bin Inc., demanding they clean up their facilities in Freeport, Texas after determining they violated the Clean Air Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and the Clean Water Act.
“It is imperative that business and industry do their part to minimize the possible harm their operations may cause to our environment,” said EPA Regional Administrator Richard E. Greene in the DOJ report. “This agreement will ensure corrective action is taken and provide added benefits to the environment through supplemental projects.”
The companies were fined $2.6 million and ordered to spend $4.8 million to decrease chlorofluorocarbon emissions and better hazardous waste management at their Texas plants. The remaining $4.7 million will be spent on supplemental environmental projects as well as renovations to ensure PVC emissions are reduced by 10,000 pounds, the DOJ reports.
The supplemental projects include funding the addition of at least 300 acres of wetlands and forest to the Austin Woods preserve, as well as aiding a new Houston recycling program that will help to ensure the proper disposal of appliances containing ozone-depleting refrigerant.
The EPA is committed to help reduce PVC emissions, while many companies are committed to lowering the usage of PVC in their products.
“It’s not something you want in a product,” said Greenpeace member Jack Desena. “In small doses the phthalates aren’t a big deal, we all come in contact with them on a regular basis. But the manufacturing, processing and disposal of polyvinyl chlorides is the real problem. When you process them they release so many toxins into the air. ‚ It really rips apart the environment.”