Report from the USGBC PVC Hearing: Highlights, Observations and Surprises

Bill Walsh | February 25, 2004 | Policies

On February 18, 2004 the US Green Building Council (USGBC) PVC Task Group held its first public meeting to consider whether to extend credit in its LEEDâ„¢ green building rating program to buildings that avoid PVC plastic, also known as vinyl.

MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Award winner Wilma Subra delivered the first presentation. Ms. Subra, a scientist who works on behalf of communities living near industrial facilities, dropped a bombshell: according to data reported by government agencies and the industry itself, people living up to 1.5 miles from PVC manufacturing facilities are routinely exposed to excessive levels of the known human carcinogen, vinyl chloride. And despite the fact that the PVC Task Group holds thousands of pages of PVC-related emissions data submitted by the industry in opposition to a PVC-related credit, Subra's testimony was clearly news to them.

Vinyl industry lobbyist after lobbyist took the podium, but never addressed the issue of why a product that spews human carcinogens into schoolyards deserves the LEED trademark. One argued that regardless of the illegal emissions, if the material was "legal" then it should receive a LEED credit. A chemical industry lobbyist, oblivious to the contradiction in her words, urged the Task Group to ignore the perspective of people who have already "taken positions" on vinyl. Another admonished that the US Green Building Council not to be swayed by "environmental agendas." Huh?

Another surprise - no architects, designers, or engineers were among the 20+ presenters who spoke on the record to the issue during the meeting, though some submitted excellent written comments. Most industry presenters were not USGBC members, but trade associations representing corporations that oppose the PVC credit and have financial interests in the outcome.

HBN's comments, available at offer a spectrum of current industry-adopted PVC exclusion standards consistent with the USGBC's PVC avoidance credit under consideration. Our action alert has already generated nearly 100 submissions to the PVC Task Group for consideration.

The record is still open; make sure that your voice is heard by submitting comments to USGBC at And don't forget to send a copy of your comments to HBN.