Mother Earth Living

What is PVC?

Find out what you need to know about PVC.
By Natural Home Staff
July/August 2004
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How do I know if something’s made from PVC?

Many PVC items, especially flexible ones, have a strong odor when new. The smell of a new plastic shower curtain is a sign that it’s probably made from PVC.

What is PVC?

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC or just “vinyl”) is the second most widely used plastic in the world. It is relatively cheap to produce (ignoring cost to health and the environment) and can be made into either rigid or flexible products. From shower curtains to garden hoses to children’s toys, the use of PVC is so pervasive that most of us use PVC products daily without a second thought.

The Healthy Building Network, a coalition of green building professionals and others interested in sustainable building materials and practices, has called PVC an environmental health disaster. Its production involves the use and release of extremely toxic chemicals. Flexible PVC products contain toxic plasticizers that leach out of the material and can be a health hazard for users.

What makes PVC so bad?

Vinyl chloride. The building block from which PVC is made, vinyl chloride is a known carcinogen and can cause nerve damage, immune reactions, and other serious health effects in high enough doses.

Dioxins. Among the world’s most toxic chemicals, dioxins are a byproduct of the manufacturing and incineration of chemicals containing chlorine, such as PVC. Dioxins can cause cancer and adversely affect the reproductive and immune systems. They’re slow to break down in the environment and have contaminated the food chain, especially foods with animal fat, including human breast milk.

Phthalates. A group of chemicals added to PVC to make it flexible, phthalates can leach out of products when sucked on by a child, when in contact with food, or when used in medical equipment. In animal studies, most phthalates cause birth defects or reproductive problems. Recent studies show that virtually all of us have phthalates in our bodies.

Excerpted with permission from Vinyl Exam: Eliminating PVC in Your Home, published by the Washington Toxics Coalition, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting public health and the environment by preventing pollution. Write or phone for information: 4649 Sunnyside Avenue North, Suite 540, Seattle, WA 98103; (206) 632-1545;

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