Two Independent Critiques Of Vinyl Building Materials Link Flooring & Asthma, Reproductive Problems & PVC Combustion

Bill Walsh | November 01, 2004 | Materials

The Swedish National Testing and Research Institute[1] states as its mission "to contribute to growth and competitiveness of industry as well as to safety, conservation of resources and a good environment in society."

This might explain the interest generated by the Institute's recent study published in the October issue of the journal Environmental Health Perspectives,[2] which found a "striking" correlation between the plasticizers (called phthalates) used in vinyl flooring products and a marked increase in asthma and allergies in children that have been documented over the past 30 years.[3] In the published abstract to the study, the authors note "Given the phthalate exposures of children worldwide, the results from this study of Swedish children have global implications."[4]

The study coincided with the European Union's decision to permanently ban phthalates in toys. According to the industry trade journal Plastics News,[5] the authors believe the study, which found connections between exposure to butyl benzyl phthalate (BBzP) and rhinitis and eczema, and di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) and asthma, "may underestimate the connections between phthalates and respiratory problems"

"Beneath the attractive veneer, PVC is extremely hazardous for multiple reasons," writes Terrence Collins, Thomas Lord Professor of Chemistry at Carnegie Mellon University and director of the Institute for Green Oxidation Chemistry Writing in the October 18th issue of Chemical and Engineering News.[6]

In a Point/Counterpoint exchange with the Chlorine Chemistry Council's chief spokesperson, Professor Collins limits his argument to "only the dioxins hazard associated with combustion" which he notes "elicit a diverse spectrum of cancer and non-cancer effects . . . far more troubling than cancer itself." These include a range of birth defects, and reproductive disorders to both males and females which he enumerates in a list that runs for more than ten lines. "With this in mind," he writes "consider all the windows, siding, flooring, automobile components, packaging, and innumerable other PVC products where accidental or inadvertent fires could (and do) contaminate neighborhoods with bioaccumulative dioxins, putting children and people of reproductive age at risk of exposure."

Professor Collins writes that combustion concerns alone justify restricting PVC "to those uses where uncontrolled combustion cannot occur; for example, in buried piping." Take into account the environmental health impacts of the vinyl manufacturing process, where the processing of the human carcinogen vinyl chloride itself releases unacceptable levels of dioxin, and you have the case for a total PVC phase-out that is proving increasingly persuasive in the market.

We have now reached the point where the steady flow of studies cataloguing environmental health impacts of PVC[7] is being overtaken by the pace at which business is turning to PVC alternatives.[8] More announcements are on the way. The growing chorus of "PVC-free" is not just coming from Greenpeace protesters anymore. That's the market speaking.



If you're attending USGBC's Greenbuild Conference and Expo in Portland, Oregon from November 9-12, please stop by the HBN table to learn more about us. HBN is located in the Non-Profit Table Top Pavilion area of the Convention Center at Booth 14.

HBN's Leadership Awards will be presented on Thursday, November 11 to Habitat for Humanity for vinyl-free homes by affiliates in Washington State and Louisiana. Join us at this fabulous event, from 6-8pm held at boora architects, 720 SW Washington Street, Suite 800 in downtown Portland. There will be music, Oregon wines, beer, and food, and information about Habitat's PVC-free projects and other healthy building projects in the Northwest. Director Judith Helfand will be on hand for an exclusive viewing of the epilogue short to Blue Vinyl, the award-winning documentary. This event is made possible by our co-sponsors: boora architects, Working Films, and the Oregon Toxics Alliance.


[1] Swedish National Testing and Research Institute

[2] Bornehag, C, et al., "The Association between Asthma and Allergic Symptoms in Children and Phthalates in House Dust: A Nested Case-Control Study" Environmental Health Perspectives October, 2004; 112:1393-1397 (2004).

[3] "Plastic Chemicals Linked to Asthma, Allergies" WebMD, October 6, 2004

[4] Bornehag, C. Environmental Health Perspectives, abstract.

[5] "New Studies Link Chemicals to Certain Health Problems," Steve Toloken, Plastics News, October 18, 2004.

[6] "The Many Faces of Chlorine" Chemical and Engineering News October 18, 2004

[7] Healthy Building Network, "Update on the Environmental Health Impacts of PVC as a Building Material: Evidence from 2000-2004"

[8] Healthy Building Network, PVC Alternatives Database,