Widely Used PVC Plastic Harms Public Health, Environment
The Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today for failing to regulate a common plastic — polyvinyl chloride (commonly called PVC or vinyl) — as hazardous waste. PVC is one of the most widely used and discarded forms of plastic, yet numerous studies have found it’s highly toxic to human health and the environment.
PVC is found in children’s toys, clothing, consumer packaging, building materials, electronics and many other household goods. Yet it releases toxic chemicals and carcinogens, including dioxin and phthalate plasticizers, into the air, water and food web at every stage of its life cycle. Canada began regulating plastic as a toxic substance in May.
“PVC is one of the most hazardous consumer products ever made, and the federal government can’t keep ignoring that reality,” said Emily Jeffers, an attorney at the Center and a former wildlife biologist. “This disturbingly widespread plastic sheds toxic chemicals that harm people and wildlife. We have to stop making so much plastic and come up with safer ways to dispose of our plastic pollution. PVC is a toxic time bomb.”
The failure to regulate PVC raises environmental-justice concerns both here and abroad. The United States exports much of its plastic waste to poor countries such as Malaysia. Domestically the U.S. petrochemical facilities that make PVC pollute Black communities and other communities of color with carcinogens like dioxin.
The Formosa Plastics plant in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is a major PVC producer that has released more than 1 million pounds of toxic chemicals over the past decade. In an area known as “Cancer Alley,” in a Black community in St. James Parish, the company is now proposing to build one of the world’s largest petrochemical plants — a project the Center and its Gulf Coast allies have sued to block.
Today’s lawsuit, filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., names EPA Administrator Michael Regan and says the EPA violated the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act by ignoring a rulemaking petition about this dangerous substance. The Center petitioned the agency in 2014 to regulate PVC as hazardous waste, citing numerous scientific studies.
“Exposure to vinyl chloride, phthalate plasticizers and other chemical additives is associated with a broad array of developmental and behavioral abnormalities in humans and wildlife species,” the Center complaint reads. “Recent studies reveal that finished PVC products leach significant concentrations of these compounds into the environment as they deteriorate with age, threatening severe biological consequences. Substantial scientific evidence shows that the widespread mismanagement of discarded PVC has distributed toxic chemicals throughout our environment, threatening ecosystem health and endangering vulnerable portions of the human population.”
Among the human health risks associated with exposure to PVC and its additives are reproductive harm, hormone disruptions, abnormal brain and reproductive development, obesity, insulin resistance and damage to the liver and other organs.
If PVC is categorized as hazardous waste, the EPA would have to develop a comprehensive framework to ensure its safe treatment, storage and disposal.