Despite laudable efforts by polyvinyl chloride (PVC) manufacturers to reduce the health and environmental impacts of their products, PVC still poses hazards that designers should consider before specifying products for the built environment, according to a new white paper released today by global architecture and design firm Perkins+Will.
“The fact is, PVC is a chlorinated plastic, which is potentially responsible for a range of human health and environmental problems. So even with the removal of lead-based stabilizers and toxic plasticizers, studies linking PVC to cancer throughout its lifecycle are still relevant,” says Suzanne Drake, a senior interior designer at Perkins+Will and co-author of the white paper.
What’s New (and What’s Not) With PVC examines recent efforts by PVC manufacturers to remove carcinogenic phthalates from their products and rebrand those products as more environmentally friendly by labeling them as “clean” or “bio.” The paper also reviews recent scientific data on PVC’s health and environmental impacts in the wake of these product reformulations.
“The bottom line is that the fundamental hazards inherent in the chemistry of PVC cannot be resolved,” says Melissa Coffin, principal investigator with the Healthy Building Network (HBN) and co-author of the white paper. “PVC will always require a highly toxic vinyl chloride monomer and produce even more potent dioxins during manufacture and disposal.”
PVC has been on Perkins+Will’s Precautionary List since 2008. At that time, researchers concluded that environmentally superior building materials existed in virtually every product category where PVC options were found, and that these superior materials could therefore replace PVC in nearly every design application. These categories include piping, wallcoverings, window shades, and flooring. Seven years later, after a careful evaluation of the most recent scientific data available on PVC, the paper’s authors draw the same conclusion.
“Even without scientific certainty, if competent evidence suggests adverse human health or environmental impacts may be associated with a certain substance, and if a building material contains that substance or may release that substance during its useful life, it’s our responsibility as architects and designers to make our clients aware of that fact and present them with alternative materials for consideration,” says Drake.
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