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Beware Of Polyvinyl Chloride, A Highly Toxic Plastic Found In Many Household Products
Posted by Dr. Ben Kim
Polyvinyl chloride, also known as PVC or vinyl, is arguably one of the most toxic types of plastic in our lives.
One reason why PVC is so toxic is that it is often mixed with softening chemicals called plasticizers, the most well known variety being phalates.
Exposure to PVC and the plasticizers that often come with it have been strongly associated with an increased risk of developing the following conditions:
- Hormonal imbalances
- Reproductive and developmental problems
- Allergies in children
- Brain cancer
- Hardening of connective tissue throughout the body, also called scleroderma
- A malignant tumor arising from tubules that are near the gall bladder and liver, also called a cholangiocarcinoma
- A malignant tumor arising from a blood vessel, also called an angiosarcoma
Furthermore, the processes of manufacturing PVC and burning waste PVC are known to create dioxins. Even at very low levels of exposure, dioxins have been linked to:
- Immune system dysfunction
- Reproductive problems
- Many different types of cancer
Dioxin production of any amount is a threat to the entire world because dioxins can travel long distances and persist in the environment.
Due to the number of concerns that surround the use of PVC, some governments around the world officially discourage its use - The Netherlands and Germany are the most prominent countries to take this position.
Four prominent groups - the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Toxicology Program, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer - agree that PVC is one of 52 chemicals that are confirmed to cause cancer in humans.
If the health and environmental risks associated with PVC are so well documented, why does it continue to be a major part of the global economy? Because it is relatively inexpensive to manufacture and can be adapted for so many everyday uses. Simply put, PVC is one of the premier cash cows of the chemical industry.
How can you identify products that are made with PVC? Most are marked with its resin identification code, as shown to the left. For products that are not marked with a resin identification code, the only way to find out whether it is made with PVC or not is to ask the manufacturer directly.
Another way to identify the presence of PVC is to look out for soft, malleable plastic. Packaging (including some varieties of cling-wrap), toys, clothing, and bed linens are common products that can come with PVC-laden malleable plastic.
Other common products that are usually made with PVC include:
- Personal care products such as soap, shampoo, deodorants, fragrances, hair spray, and nail polish
- Vinyl siding on homes and buildings
- Plumbing fixtures
- Flexible hoses and tubing
- Roofing membranes
- Insulation for electrical cable and wires
- Magnetic stripe cards
- Materials used to cushion and cover furniture
- Pipelines in the water and sewage industries
- Lubricating oils
- Automotive plastics
- Plastic clothing
For parents who are concerned with PVC in children's toys, it is best to use toys that are manufactured by the following brands that refuse to incorporate PVC into their products:
- Tiny Love
- International Playthings
- Early Start
Discovery Toys and Manhattan Baby also provide a variety of toys that are free of PVC; they also have some toys that are made with PVC, so it is wise to do a thorough check before purchasing these brands.
Another safe option for toys is to choose varieties that are made with certified sustainable wood or organic cotton. Companies that specialize in such toys are:
- Melissa & Doug
- Thomas and Woodkits
Clearly, it is extremely difficult to live without any plastic products in our homes and workplaces. What follows are some sensible guidelines* that can help to reduce our exposure to plastic, particularly those that are made with PVC:
- Use glass containers and bottles rather than plastic ones.
- When wrapping foods for storage or to take out, avoid plastic cling wrap. Cellulose bags, wax paper, and butcher paper are better choices. Glass or stainless steel containers are even better.
- Whenever possible, buy food and supplies in bulk to reduce the amount of packaging that is consumed.
- Whenever possible, choose packaging materials that are easily recycled. Paper, glass, and metal cans are good choices.
- Purchase recycled paper.
- Take cloth bags to shop to reduce the need for plastic bags.
- At the grocery store, try not to use thin, transparent plastic bags for each item or bunch of produce. Several fruits and vegetables can be carried out of the store in one or two bags, preferably cotton ones.
- Bring non-plastic containers to cafeterias, salad bars, and other places that typically use plastic containers to serve their food on.
- Use stainless steel utensils. Plastic utensils should be avoided whenever possible since they have to repeatedly come into contact with our mouths.
- If a microwave must be utilized, never use it to cook food that is in contact with plastic cling wrap.
Ultimately, one fact is clear: our generation is being exposed to many dangerous chemicals that previous generations were not burdened with. A study that was recently released by Environmental Defence, a Canadian advocacy group, indicates that Canadian children have higher levels of 68 chemicals found in consumer products in their bodies than their parents do.
Making the effort to incorporate some of the guidelines listed above into our daily lives is undoubtedly a wise investment of our time and resources.
*Guidelines on how to reduce our exposure to plastic are from www.cbc.ca.
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