4specs.com    4specs.com Home Page

Is PVC all that bad? Log Out | Topics | Search
Moderators | Register | Edit Profile

4specs Discussion Forum » Archive - Product Discussions » Is PVC all that bad? « Previous Next »

Author Message
David Axt, AIA, CCS, CSI
Senior Member
Username: david_axt

Post Number: 411
Registered: 03-2002
Posted on Thursday, January 20, 2005 - 06:20 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Does anybody definitively know if PVC is all that bad for the environment or is it just hype?

What about the other plastics such as ABS, HDPE, etc. Certainly they must also be bad.

I have read technical articles on both sides of the PVC debate and frankly I am confused.
Tobin Oruch, CDT
Senior Member
Username: oruch

Post Number: 13
Registered: 04-2003
Posted on Friday, January 21, 2005 - 11:50 am:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Latest USGBC report is that PVC's not so bad it shouldn't be used in green/LEED buildings. See draft at http://usgbc.org/News/usgbcnews_details.asp?ID=1224
William C. Pegues, FCSI, CCS
Senior Member
Username: wpegues

Post Number: 333
Registered: 10-2002
Posted on Friday, January 21, 2005 - 03:09 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post


Just as with most things, you can manufacture and fabricate it such that it is very damaging to people and the enviornment, or you can do it correctly and be just fine. There are laws and codes that cover a lot of its chemical creation and manufacture, and there are associations whose standards cover that as well as fabrication.

Basically, a number of uninformed but very vocal people won't let a dead issue actually die. There have been other discussions here about this.

Vinyl Institute http://www.vinylinfo.org/ has good information as does http://www.vinyl.org/ which is sponsored by the US, Canadian and European vinyl associations.

Joanne Rodriguez, CSI, CDT, LEED AP
Senior Member
Username: joanne

Post Number: 12
Registered: 09-2004
Posted on Friday, January 21, 2005 - 03:35 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

David I have a very long research study on the effects of PVC on the environment. If you are interested I can try to email or snail mail to you.

Plastics can be used as an effective building material, it is what they do to it in the manufacture of the product. PVC in particular is so bad that you cannot find places to take it after the useful service life. The good news is technology which allows PVC's and other plastics to be recycled into other materials. It requires the owner to consider a buyback program from the onset of a project.

I believe if you are afforded the opportunity to utilize other materials it will ultimately be worth it to your clients, as well as our environment.
Randall L. Cox
Senior Member
Username: randy_cox

Post Number: 13
Registered: 04-2004
Posted on Friday, January 21, 2005 - 05:16 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

I'm no expert on PVC, but I can't buy into the belief that plastic is never the best choice for our clients.

We do a lot of multifamily residential work & we have at least one client who insists on Trex for exterior decking and Azak for exterior trim. Both are made with plastic, although I don't know if either qualifies as PVC. (Trex is made of some post consumer waste - I think they use ground up milk cartons).

I used to be opposed to vinyl siding (and I'll still never vinalize my house), but different clients may have different needs. I was driving around a few summers ago, looking at old projects, and found that the low income homeownership units built with vinyl siding 15 years ago still look good, but the units from the same era with painted siding are in poor condition. From my own experience, I know repainting is expensive.

Vinyl may not be loveable, but it is durable, and sometimes that makes it the most appropriate material for our clients.

William C. Pegues, FCSI, CCS
Senior Member
Username: wpegues

Post Number: 334
Registered: 10-2002
Posted on Saturday, January 22, 2005 - 11:13 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post


You are going to be very disappointed that the US Green Building Council contradicts your point of view. You should read their draft report.

It did not recommend vinyl or PVC not be used.

No credits towards LEED certifications will be given for not using PVC or other vinyl products.

Julie Root
Advanced Member
Username: julie_root

Post Number: 5
Registered: 02-2004
Posted on Sunday, January 23, 2005 - 07:44 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Oh boy...let me pull out the soap box.

If any of you have a chance see the movie 'Blue Vinyl', you will start looking for PVC alternatives in a heart beat. Yes, while there are regulations, laws, and codes it does not mean that it is still good for the environment or the people who work at creating it. There are also different requlations from State to State; Country to Country. While fairly stable it in its manufactured form, getting it produced and then as someone mentioned finding a way to dispose of it are the keys.

Toy manufactures have eliminated it (for the most part) for kids under 3 and there is big pushes to eliminate it from all toys. There are studies that show that there are elements from PVC that change DNA make up, so why if toy manufactures are concerned why should we not be concerned? The point here is that the toy industry has found better alternatives so can the construction industry. A lot of research is all ready waiting for them.

Also the healthcare industry is making attempts at removing PVC from medical equipement and supplies. So there will be even more opportunities for the construction industry to look to.

The Chemistry Department at Univ. CA, San Luis Obispo developed the tough VOC requirements for CA for that other States are adapting. I have heard professors from UCSLO at a USGBC conference several years ago talk about the research that connects PVC to increased infertility rates. How many of you know friends and loved ones that have had a hard time becoming pregnant? Does it have anything to do with the generation that has been most exposed to PVC? It is not the end all factor, but can you say that it may not contribute?

Personally the Vinyl Institue information is concerning. I feel when I read it these guys would like you to drink a glass of chlorine in place of OJ when you walk out of the door in the morning. Their literature and speaking representatives are always on the defensive as they did not have to defend their industry against studies that have shown the effects of vinyl until recently.

PVC is so integral to so many building products, there are many 'baby steps' we as specifiers can take. An example is every time I talk to Sarnifil about their PVC roofing, I ask them about any efforts they have going on with regards to a recycling program. Their PVC roofing guarentees a credit point under LEED, but I let them know that they can go further.

An other example is linoleum. Every year (for the last 5) I set a goal of conviencing clients to use it over VCT. I have surpassed my goal every year. Most times simply by asking them and make them aware of issue.

A last example is wiring insulation. There are products that are not made from PVC, but more stable plastics. They cost about the same, but they are more difficult to find without a little effort from the contractor. Do you really think the client is going to care if it costs the same?

These little 'baby steps' will promote market transformation. It is not going to happen over night. Nothing really ever does.

Thanks for listening to my rant. Now please try some baby steps.

Posted on Sunday, January 23, 2005 - 10:54 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

I watched Blue Vinyl. I laughed so hard, I cried. It was ridiculous. A mockumentary. The USGBC has arrived at the only scientific conclusion that it could - PVC is not any better or any worse than any other material out there. ALL materials have environmental consequence.

How many SBS modified roofing systems manufacturers have you asked about recycling programs? How about EPDM? TPO? Coal tar? Why aren't these industries being pilloried in the same way?

Linoleum actually has a miserable environmental footprint. You can google a LCA study done by Swedish scientists that shows linoleum to be an even worse polluter than PVC. It's true! Does anyone actually still believe that this stuff biodegrades? It is incinerated as readily as PVC, and incineration of linoleum actually releases the heavy metals cadmium and mercury (metals absent in PVC in the USA for decades), but the study concludes that even so, burning it is still more environmentally friendly than landfilling. CA 01350 standards - linoleum actually failed that tests a few times - releasing a known human carcinogen. PVC is not classified - it is not a human carcinogen.

Look at the facts, folks, before you buy in to the the hyperbole and propaganda pushed by the anti-PVC organizations. It's all a lot of bull, and thankfully, the USGBC has taken the bold step of calling a spade a spade. Had it not done so, its credibility would have been seriously in question, as far as I am concerned.

I encourage anyone that is interested in the truth to read the USGBC report.
William C. Pegues, FCSI, CCS
Senior Member
Username: wpegues

Post Number: 336
Registered: 10-2002
Posted on Monday, January 24, 2005 - 12:20 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Another voice of reason! Nice post.

One of the problems with this issue is that the protesters against vinyl and vinyl based products don't update their information as new studies are done, or as bad studies are debunked. They just keep the same outdated news posted as though its the latest word.

Because of this, and our current technology, and that it got such wide exposure originally, it has mutated into the 'Urban Legend' category.

I am sure that regardless of the USGBC finding, these same protestors will not revise any of their documentation, and that someone coming upon them at some future date will spend valuable time thinking their information is current.

Sheldon Wolfe
Senior Member
Username: sheldon_wolfe

Post Number: 109
Registered: 01-2003
Posted on Monday, January 24, 2005 - 02:01 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Another problem is that many of the protestors offer no alternative, or at least no reasonable alternative. Given the "bad things" we know about fiberglass, cellulose, and foam insulations, we should all pack up and move to San Diego so we don't need any insulation.

Many of these nasty products are better than those they replaced. Should we go back to steel pipe and replace it every few years when the water pressure drops? Or should we go back to lead pipe? Knee jerk reactions sometimes produce solutions that are worse than the original problem, or create a new set of problems.

Remember the good old days when houses had plenty of free air exchange? We didn't have mold, and we didn't have carbon dioxide problems. Reducing air infiltration does reduce energy consumption, but when the move to tighter houses first became popular, few people foresaw the problems.

Something that really irritates me is the "corporation bad, chemicals bad" attitude. The products we use were not invented by psychopathic madmen, bent on destroying the earth and ending the human species; most inventions came about as an attempt to find a better solution to a problem. Given the way people think, it is not surprising that "less expensive" is often seen as better, but other problems, e.g., scarcity of resources or difficulty of production, also justify use of a new product.

In the last few years, leaded gas and Freon have been attacked and removed from the market. One might think that whoever invented them was a dastardly scoundrel, indeed - especially because they were invented by the same person, one Thomas Midgley.

Yet each of these products was, in its day, a dramatic improvement over existing technology. Had we thought of such things back then, they might even have been considered environmentally friendly. Leaded gas, by allowing gasoline engines to develop more power, increased fuel efficiency. Freon refrigeration units replaced those that used ammonia and sulfur dioxide, both lethal chemicals. Freon, in contrast, was non-toxic.

Yes, there are problems - with all products. And yes, we should look for those products and processes that will reduce degradation of our environment. But let's think new solutions through, and make sure we aren't making things worse when we decide something is "bad".
J. Peter Jordan
Senior Member
Username: jpjordan

Post Number: 32
Registered: 05-2004
Posted on Monday, January 24, 2005 - 06:22 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

I believe that some of the hype about the use of PVC or [carcinogen de jour] is wrapped around an almost theological (certainly dogmatic) committment to the use of "honest materials in an honest way." Naturally occurring materials can be deadly (like the element arsenic or asbestos) and synthetic materials can be at least marginally beneficial through the conservation of other natural resources.

There is no such thing as a free lunch. You can't get ahead, and you can't even get out of the game. Do you use a synthetic material containing a certain amount of plastic that imitates a rare wood veneer from the rain forest or do you use the "real thing." Maybe the right thing to do is neither, and at it's most extreme, not to build at all.

One has to exercise a certain amount of judgement and perspective. In some cases, persuading to use a "green" product may be reasonable. In other cases, this may not be a viable alternative and even have ramifications that may be even more harmful in the long run. Very few solutions are applicable in all situations, and anyone who thinks he/she has THE answer hasn't listened to Sheldon when he suggests, "let's think new solutions through, and make sure we aren't making things worse when we decide something is 'bad'."
Joanne Rodriguez, CSI, CDT, LEED AP
Senior Member
Username: joanne

Post Number: 13
Registered: 09-2004
Posted on Friday, January 28, 2005 - 09:12 am:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

I agree with all of you in this dialogue, even though some of you disagree with me. The point I feel that should be made is this--when there are alternatives to "bad chemicals" why continue to do what we have always done? Day in and day out firms want the credibility of being "environmentally responsible." But opposed to taking an approach which values lifecycle assessment, as an alternative to first cost savings, the projects trend towards the latter. This is not to say that products that are detrimental to our environment are the least expensive, but I can think of many instances where there are alternatives--viable alternatives--to these choices but lack of research, imagination, time, ______(fill in the blank) prevail.

There are times when you are forced into selecting the lesser of the 2 evils in order to get the project done. There are times when you have to use a cost effective product in order to meet the budget. But I feel when you know products will ultimately have an adverse effect on the environment (asbestos, lead based paints, arsenic treated woods) wouldn't it be beneficial to all of us to research the alternatives? How much more proof do we need?

Just a thought
Peggy White, CSI, CCS, CCCA (Unregistered Guest)
Unregistered guest
Posted on Saturday, January 29, 2005 - 12:53 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Hello all

I would just like to enter this fray to comment that the PVC Report conclusions of the USGBC TSAC are only a draft, and it is out for comment. This is far from the last word from the USGBC members on this issue. The final report will not be issued until the end of 2005. Go to http://www.usgbc.org/News/usgbcnews_details.asp?ID=1224 to read the report, and I encourage all of you to also read the comments posted about the previous report. There is a lot of factual information there that you might find informative.

Making broad negative judgements about people who are sincerely trying to build healthier buildings seems a bit cheap to me. Lets talk about the issue based on facts, rather than personal evaluations of people expressing their opinion or presenting a point of view.

I expect more from the construction communinity than some of what I see posted above. Stick to the issue.

If you want to delve further into the PVC issue from an environmentally friendly perspective you might want to look at Tom Lent's response to USGBC PVC Report, as posted on Healthy Building Networks website http://www.healthybuilding.net/.
And of course the Vinyl Institute, the American Plastics Council, and various other plastics related associations have a plethora of chatter about the opposing point of view.

Its a difficult topic - let's use this discussion group to help each other understand it thoroughly so that we can make informed decisions.
Tobin Oruch, CDT
Senior Member
Username: oruch

Post Number: 19
Registered: 04-2003
Posted on Monday, March 28, 2005 - 05:19 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

A new, good Christian Science Monitor article:

Also, here's the HBN/Thornton paper it refers to.http://www.healthybuilding.net/pvc/ThorntonPVCSummary.html

Topics | Last Day | Last Week | Tree View | Search | Help/Instructions | Program Credits Administration