PVC (polyvinyl chloride) is also known as vinyl. PVC is the second
most common plastic, but is the least recycled of all common plastics.
Some products made from PVC are marked with the number three inside
the recycling symbol (see below). Others may be marked with a “V”
for vinyl, or “PVC” (although some products are not marked
PVC is Toxic
are two main reasons why PVC is a toxic plastic that causes damage
to our health and environment. When manufactured, disposed of, or
subjected to high heat, the chlorine in PVC can chemically combine
with organic materials, producing deadly byproducts known as dioxins.
Secondly, the additives used in PVC plastic products can also be toxic.
PVC Problem #1: Dioxins
Dioxins belong to a class of 75 chemicals with similar properties;
the most toxic is 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD). Dioxins
are known to cause cancer, immune suppression, and birth defects in
animals. They can act as endocrine disruptors, which means that they
have the ability to mimic or block hormones in the body. In the early
1990s, the Endometriosis Association found that 79% of a group of
monkeys developed endometriosis after being exposed to TCDD dioxin
in food during a research study. The severity of endometriosis found
in the monkeys was directly related to the amount of TCDD to which
they had been exposed. In addition, the dioxin-exposed monkeys showed
immune abnormalities similar to those observed in women with endo.
The main sources of dioxins are municipal waste incineration, metal
smelting, medical waste incineration, chemical and plastic manufacturing,
and pulp/paper bleaching. Dioxins can travel long distances in the
atmosphere via air currents. Rain, snow and dust carry it to the ground,
and it eventually enters the food chain when animals, such as cattle,
graze on the dioxin-contaminated crops.According to the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency, over 90% of our exposure to dioxins is through
food, with major sources including beef, dairy products, milk, chicken,
pork, fish and eggs. Dioxins are also passed from mother to developing
infant across the placenta and through breastfeeding.
Dioxins and related compounds are highly persistent in the environment
and in living organisms. It is believed that almost all living beings
on earth have dioxin-like compounds in their body tissue. No amount
of dioxin exposure can be considered safe, as very small amounts have
been associated with impaired development, reproduction, neurological,
and immune function. The EPA’s most recent report concluded
that the cancer risk to the general population from dioxin is now
as high as one in one hundred people. Dioxin is one of the most toxic
chemicals known to humankind.
is toxic at every stage of its lifecycle. When manufactured
or burned, dioxin is created. Dioxin is known to disrupt
the hormonal and immune systems.
PVC Problem #2:
PVC requires the use of more chemical additives than any other common
plastic. PVC products always contain additives because, by itself,
PVC is a very rigid, non-flexible material. To make PVC soft and flexible
(for IV bags or gloves, for example) additives such as phthalates
(pronounced “thal-ates”) are used. However, because they
are not chemically bonded to the PVC itself, they can run off or leach
from the PVC plastic. One of the widely used phthalates in PVC products
is di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), a toxic chemical that has been
associated with damage to the heart, liver, ovaries, testes, lungs
and kidneys. DEHP in medical equipment like IV (intravenous) bags
is especially concerning due to the possible leaching of DEHP into
the body. Women with endometriosis may fall into a higher-risk category
for DEHP exposure because they often undergo numerous medical procedures
during their reproductive years. Phthalates in children’s toys,
such as teethers, can leach into their mouths. The European Union
has lead the way by banning phthalates in soft toys for children under
the age of three.
Another example of exposure to phthalates and harmful plasticizers
is through food wrapped in PVC cling wrap. Many meats, cheeses and
other foods sold in delis and grocery stores are wrapped in PVC. Scientists
have found evidence of toxic additives migrating into the food.
In addition to phthalates, other harmful additives like nonyl phenol,
organotins, cadmium, and lead are often used in PVC. Many of these
additives, such as nonyl phenol, disrupt hormonal systems. Lead is
known to cause brain and nervous system damage, convulsions, coma,
fatigue, mental retardation, hyperactivity, and reproductive problems.
What you can do to protect your health and the environment
Do not buy PVC/vinyl products.
an evaluation of your home and replace PVC products (see below),
especially those that come into contact with food, with safer materials
such as glass, ceramic, and stainless steel.
Avoid the use of PVC/vinyl construction products (i.e. pipes or
floors) when building or remodeling your home.
the manufacturers of your favorite products that are packaged in
PVC and ask them to use less toxic packaging (plastic #1 and #2
the use of PVC-free products for medical procedures such as surgeries.
your local hospital or medical facility, speak with the purchasing
department or facility manager, and ask them to phase-out PVC medical
supplies. Request that they replace PVC with safer, alternative
a comprehensive list of alternatives at www.aaa.dk/pvc.
a letter to the government agency that regulates the safety of medical
products in your country.
in mind that most of our personal exposure to dioxin comes through
animal fats such as beef, cheese, eggs, etc. Eat low-fat meat and
dairy products, preferably certified organic.
Items may contain PVC
(IV) bags and tubing
and Me Campaign
Now that we know that PVC is harmful to our health and the environment,
it is time to take action to eliminate it from our lives.
Fortunately, for almost all of the products currently made of
PVC, safer alternatives are available.
The Endometriosis Association, with the generous support of
the Beldon Fund, has launched a three-year campaign to educate
purchasing agents and hospital officials about the hazards associated
with PVC plastic in medical devices.
Join us and help make a difference! If you would like information
about requesting a PVC free surgery, or writing to companies
or the government, contact the
Environmental Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org.