Newly Completed Inventory of Chlorine & PVC Production Sheds New Light on Supply Chain Challenges

Teresa McGrath and Jim Vallette | March 2019 | Newsletter

Demand from the building industry now drives the production of chlorine, the key ingredient of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) widely used in pipes, siding, roofing membranes, wall covering, flooring, and carpeting. Chlorine is also an essential feedstock for epoxies used in adhesives and flooring topcoats, and for polyurethane used in insulation and flooring. On March 19, 2019, the Healthy Building Network will release Phase 2 of its landmark report on chlorine-based plastics that are widely used in common building and construction products. The report, “​Chlorine and Building Materials: A Global Inventory of Production Technologies, Markets, and Pollution. Phase 2: Asia,”​ completes HBN’s global analysis of the industry.  

Our research confirms that 100% of PVC is manufactured using either mercury, asbestos, and/or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in its supply chain. Mercury is persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic1 per the EPA; in particular, mercury is listed as a developmental toxicant by California's Proposition 65 (Prop 65).2 PFAS chemicals are persistent and can be bioaccumulative and/or toxic.3 Chlorine production is the last remaining use of asbestos in the USA. Asbestos causes mesothelioma and is listed as a carcinogen by Prop 65.2 We also confirmed a dramatic recent shift in global production to China, where almost all new production uses mercuric catalysts and PFAS-based chlorine production technology. The USA and China account for more than half of the world’s PVC and chlorine production. 

The unexpectedly high use of PFAS as an alternative to mercury- and asbestos-based chlorine manufacturing technology raises new concerns about the role of chlorine-based products and the growing concern over global PFAS exposures. As Bill Walsh discusses in this companion piece, Which Carpet is the Healthiest? Busting the Myth on Carpet Claims, experts worldwide, including the Harvard School of Public Health, are sounding the alarm about PFAS, a class of persistent, bioaccumulative toxic chemicals that are accumulating at increasing rates in people, fish, and wildlife all over the world. HBN estimates that, in Asia, 94% of all chlorine comes from PFAS technology.  

The HBN reports, Phase 1 and Phase 2, include an interactive map and a detailed inventory spreadsheet, providing vital information about the largest chlor-alkali plants and PVC plants, including their capacities, owners, technologies, markets, and production technologies(asbestos, mercury or PFAS). 

HBN invites newsletter subscribers and the public to join a free webinar about this project and its results on March 27, 2019,  from 2:00 to 3:00 pm eastern time. Inventory author Jim Vallette will present the findings of this initiative. Jim will take participants on a global virtual tour of chlorine and PVC production, its impacts and future. Please register for the webinar here.

Footnotes

[1] https://www.epa.gov/toxics-release-inventory-tri-program/persistent-bioaccumulative-toxic-pbt-chemicals-covered-tri

[2] https://oehha.ca.gov/proposition-65/proposition-65-list

[3] https://www.epa.gov/pfas/basic-information-pfas#health