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Vinyl Chloride - Where is it found?

The EPA has classified vinyl chloride as a Group A human carcinogen. Vinyl chloride is primarily found in polyvinyl chloride products, one of the most environmentally hazardous consumer materials ever produced, and it is dangerous to human health throughout its entire life cycle of production. Exposure to vinyl chloride has been linked to central nervous system effects and liver damage.

Polyvinyl chloride is used to manufacture a wide variety of plastic and vinyl products like pipes, wire and cable coatings and packaging materials. In smaller amounts, vinyl chloride is also found in furniture, automobile upholstery, wall coverings, housewares and automotive parts. A manufactured substance, vinyl chloride exposure can occur from breathing in air containing the gas released from plastics industries, hazardous waste sites and landfills. Drinking water from contaminated wells can also cause exposure.

Studies in workers who have breathed vinyl chloride over many years showed an increased risk of liver cancer, brain cancer, lung cancer and some cancer of the blood. Exposure to vinyl chloride is mainly because of workplace dangers, but it is found in everyday products in homes, hospitals, cars and toys and food and beverage packaging. Vinyl chloride is the building block used to make polyvinyl chloride, and approximately 75 percent of all polyvinyl chloride manufactured today is used in building materials, including water pipes that carry and store drinking water, window frames and siding, flooring, wallpaper, window blinds and shower curtains.

In studies, people exposed to polyvinyl in building interiors had significantly elevated risks of asthma, wheezing and pneumonia. The federal Center for Disease Control found children have the highest levels of DEHP in their bodies, which is a known developmental and reproductive toxin. DEHP is just one of the toxic substances used in polyvinyl chloride that is prone to leaching, so if a child chews on a plastic polyvinyl chloride toy or other product, they can be ingesting these chemicals.

Exposure to vinyl chloride has not been proven to cause birth defects in humans, but studies suggest it can affect growth and development in children. There is also reason to believe infants and young children could be more susceptible to vinyl chloride induced cancer than adults. Because of the significant risks vinyl chloride and polyvinyl chloride pose, organized consumer campaigns have successfully pressured some companies to begin phasing it out of their products.

Still, cost effective alternatives to polyvinyl chloride are readily available and can immediately eliminate the health hazards. In 2001, after Greenpeace and the Center for Health Environment & Justice teamed up to launch a consumer campaign against a major beauty supply company who distributed products packaged in polyvinyl chloride containers, the company agreed to phase it out from their product line by the end of 2003. Intimate Brands, the parent company of Victoria's Secret and Bath & Body Works, received 6,000 faxes, phone calls and postcard in one month during the campaign, pressuring the company to respond despite previous defenses against making changes.

Since then, other companies have been pressured to phase out polyvinyl chloride as well, including Microsoft and Johnson & Johnson. Consumers who wish to avoid buying products with polyvinyl chloride can check labels or call the manufacturers to see if it is included. Polyvinyl chloride is considered one of the most environmentally hazardous consumer materials ever produced and is so dangerous to human health elimination can prevent more harm.

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