Press Release: Landmark report provides little known details of plastics production

James Vallette | July 26, 2018

For Immediate Release, Thursday, July 26, 2018
Contact: Jim Vallette, jvallette@healthybuilding.net (cell: 646-522-1605)

Landmark report provides little known details of plastics production: asbestos, mercury, global warming, and ocean pollution.

The Healthy Building Network today released Phase 1 of a landmark report on chlorine based plastics that are widely used in common building and construction products such as pipes, roofing, flooring, adhesives, and many more. It is intended to inform the efforts of building product manufacturers to reduce pollution in their supply chains.

“Chlorine and Building Materials: A Global Inventory of Production Technologies, Markets, and Pollution. Phase 1: Africa, The Americas, and Europe” is the first of its kind plant-by-plant accounting of the production, use, and releases of chlorine and related pollution.

Chlorine is a key feedstock for a wide range of chemicals and consumer products, and the major ingredient of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic. The report includes details about the largest 86 chlor-alkali facilities and reveals their connections to 56 PVC resin plants in the Americas, Africa and Europe. (The second phase of this project will inventory the industry in Asia.) A substantial number of these facilities, which are identified in the report, continue to use outmoded and highly polluting mercury or asbestos.

Demand from manufacturers of building and construction products now drives the production of chlorine, the key ingredient of PVC used in pipes, siding, roofing membranes, wall covering, flooring, and carpeting. It is also an essential feedstock for epoxies used in adhesives and flooring topcoats, and for polyurethane used in insulation and flooring.

“This report is a prerequisite to understanding the origins and life-cycle impacts of high-volume building materials such as polyvinyl chloride, and others including polyurethane, and epoxies. When we know better, we can do better to reduce the environmental and health impacts of this material through the supply chain,” said Jim Vallette, HBN Research Director and lead author of the report.

Among the findings:

  • In the United States, the chlor-alkali industry is the only industry that still uses asbestos, importing 480 tons per year on average for 11 chlor-alkali plants in the country (including 7 of the 12 largest plants).
  • The only suppliers of asbestos to the chlor-alkali industry are Brazil (which banned its production, although exports continue for the moment) and Russia, whose Uralasbest mine is poised to become the sole source of asbestos once Brazil’s ban is in place.
  • The US Gulf Coast is the world’s lowest-cost region for production of chlorine and its derivatives. It is home to 9 facilities that use asbestos technology, and some of the industry’s worst polluters including 5 of the 6 largest emitters of dioxin.
  • One Gulf Coast facility has been found responsible for chronic releases of PVC plastic pellets into the Gulf of Mexico watershed.
  • The US, Russia and Germany are the only countries in this report that allow the indefinite use of both mercury and asbestos in chlorine production.
  • The world’s two largest chemical corporations – BASF and DowDuPont – have not announced any plans to phase out the use of mercury and asbestos, respectively, at their plants in Germany.
  • Chlor-alkali facilities are major sources of rising levels of carbon tetrachloride, a potent global warming and ozone depleting gas, in the earth's atmosphere.
  • Far more chlorinated pollution, such as dioxins and vinyl chloride monomer, is released from chlor-alkali plants that produce feedstocks for the PVC industry than from plants that produce chlorine for other uses.

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“Chlorine and Building Materials: A Global Inventory of Production Technologies, Markets, and Pollution. Phase 1: Africa, The Americas, and Europe” the latest in HBN’s technical reports on building products and materials. This report, which was partially financed on a subscription basis from building products manufacturers interested in reducing the environmental health impacts of their supply chains, is full open-access content, available online, free of charge. All text, charts, graphs, tables, spreadsheets, and maps, may be re-used without restriction except that attribution must be given to the source. Corporate subscribers to this report are: Carnegie, Designtex [dhoguet@designtex.com], Humanscale [jabernethy@humanscale.com], Interface [savannah.weeks@interface.com], Metroflor/Halstead [sbang@susanbang.com], and Tarkett [Rudi.Daelmans@tarkett.com].

About Healthy Building Network: Since 2000, HBN has defined the leading edge of healthy building practices that increase transparency in the building products industry, reduce human exposures to hazardous chemicals, and create market incentives for healthier innovations in manufacturing.