Is PVC Toxic?
Is PVC Toxic to Humans?
We are often asked, “Is PVC Toxic?” Is polyvinyl chloride (PVC or “vinyl”) is toxic to humans when it is used as a building product. Or, is it only problematic during manufacturing and/or disposal? The answer is that PVC is toxic to humans throughout its life cycle.
In production, carcinogens and endocrine disruptors are released into the environment (dioxin, ethylene dichloride and vinyl chloride). There are a lot of environmental justice issues around polyvinyl chloride plants in the United States, because they pollute the communities in which they are located. Integral to PVC are additives like lead, cadmium, organotins (endocrine disruptors) and phthalates (reproductive toxicants).
During use, it “off-gasses” semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs) including phthalates that are not chemically bonded to the PVC, and leaches other toxic chemicals. In a fire, PVC is highly toxic, causing the release of hydrogen chloride (which becomes hydrochloric acid when inhaled) and dioxins. Dioxins are among the most potent carcinogens known today. And after disposal, PVC continues to leach toxic additives. It is very difficult to recycle and is considered a contaminant to other plastic recycling because of its complex additives.
As a result of these lifecycle concerns, we generally try to avoid polyvinyl chloride, keeping in mind that health and environmental concerns must be weighed with each owner’s budget and comfort level. So next time someone asks, “is PVC toxic,” maybe you’ll have something to say.