APHA Recommends PVC Phase-Out in Building Products

Bill Walsh | November 22, 2011 | Policies

The American Public Health Association (APHA) is now recommending that "decision-makers...consider phasing out the use and purchase of flexible PVC in building materials, consumer products and office suppliers in schools, daycare centers, medical care facilities, nursing homes, public housing, facilities for special needs and the disabled, and other facilities with vulnerable populations when cost-effective alternatives are available."[1] The APHA, the world's oldest and most diverse organization of public health professionals, passed the policy resolution, Reducing PVC in Facilities with Vulnerable Populations, at its annual meeting on November 2, 2011.

A vinyl industry spokesman (who once defended the use of lead in children's vinyl lunchboxes) dismissed the action as "based on old information that no longer applies."[2] Of course, that is not true. Numerous, valid, independent, peer-reviewed studies are cited throughout the heavily referenced (86 endnotes) resolution. Some studies cited by the APHA are from 2010, and address the connection between asthma,[3] reproductive toxicity[4] and exposure to chemicals called phthalates.

Most of the phthalates produced in the world are used to make PVC flexible for products such as flooring, wallcovering, upholstery and roofing membranes. The APHA, citing the Centers for Disease Control, noted that phthalates have been found in 97 percent of people tested in the U.S., including newborn infants. The highest levels were in children ages 6 to 11, and in women of reproductive age.[5] Congress has enacted legislation banning phthalates in children's PVC toys and the EPA has recently developed a "chemical action plan" for phthalates.[6]

The APHA resolution also calls "[t]he impact on the communities near facilities that produce PVC...a major environmental justice concern," noting that federal investigators found that some residents near a PVC manufacturing plant in Mossville, LA, had more than three times the national average of dioxins in their blood and were reportedly three times more likely to suffer a variety of adverse health problems including respiratory and nervous system disorders.[7]

The APHA resolution offers important support to actions taken by green building industry leaders over the past decade. The Enterprise Green Communities Guidelines, for example, anticipated the APHA guidance, encouraging the use of non-vinyl flooring in affordable housing[8] whose residents suffer from disproportionate levels of asthma. LEED Pilot Credit 11 rewards the avoidance of building products that contain phthalates, for the most part, flexible vinyl products.[9]

For over a decade, the Healthy Building Network has tracked the growing body of scientific evidence documenting the unique health hazards of the PVC lifecycle. The APHA statement that "PVC products are ranked among the most hazardous of plastic materials,"[10] echoes and affirms the 2007 determination by the USGBC Technical Science and Advisory Committee (TSAC) that put "PVC consistently among the worst materials for human health impacts." The only claim that is "based on old information that no longer applies" is the suggestion that PVC is a legitimately green building material.


[1] Reducing PVC in Facilities With Vulnerable Populations - Final Revisions 11/1/11. Available at: http://chej.org/wp-content/uploads/APHA-Policy-Resolution-B6-Revised-11-1-11.pdf.

[2] See http://thechart.blogs.cnn.com/category/toxic-america/, and http://www.plasticstoday.com/articles/major-public-health-group-takes-aim-pvc1107201101

[3] See Reducing PVC in Facilities with Vulnerable Populations - Final Revisions 11/1/11, lines 253-256, footnotes 27 & 28.and Larsson M, Hagerhed-Engman L, et al. PVC - as flooring material - and its association with incident asthma in a Swedish child cohort study. Indoor Air. 2010; 20 (6): 494-501

[4] See footnote 37: page 8. National Toxicology Program Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction. NTP-CERHR monograph on the potential human reproductive and developmental effects of Di(2-Ethylhexyl) Phthalate (DEHP). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2006. Available at: http://noharm.org/lib/downloads/pvc/NTP-CERHR_DEHP_Monograph.pdf (accessed October 22, 2010)

[5] See Reducing PVC in Facilities with Vulnerable Populations - Final Revisions 11/1/11, lines 42-44, footnotes 25 & 26.

[6] http://www.epa.gov/oppt/existingchemicals/pubs/actionplans/phthalates.html

[7] See Reducing PVC in Facilities with Vulnerable Populations - Final Revisions 11/1/11, lines 77-85 and accompanying footnotes.

[8] See EGC criteria 7.3, available at: http://www.greencommunitiesonline.org/tools/criteria/EGC_Criteria_Checklist.pdf.

[9] See http://www.healthybuilding.net/news/2010/10/28/new-leed-materials-credits-target-phthalates-flame-retardants

[10] See Reducing PVC in Facilities with Vulnerable Populations - Final Revisions 11/1/11, line 72.