WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a notice today of its intent to sue the federal government for failing to regulate polyvinyl chloride — more commonly known as PVC or vinyl — as hazardous waste. PVC is one of the mostly commonly 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 into the air, water and food web at every stage of its life cycle, including dioxin and phthalate plasticizers. Canada announced last week that it will regulate plastic as a toxic substance.
“It’s time to recognize PVC as one the most hazardous consumer products ever made. People and wildlife are being harmed by toxic chemicals as this ubiquitous plastic is produced and degrades,” said Emily Jeffers, an attorney with the Center and former wildlife biologist. “As U.S. plastic production increases, federal officials urgently need to safeguard its disposal and protect our health. We can’t keep ignoring this toxic time bomb.”
The hazards of PVC raise environmental-justice concerns: The United States exports its plastic waste for processing to countries such as Malaysia, and domestically the petrochemical facilities that make PVC pollute Black and other communities of color with carcinogens like dioxin. A 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 this “Cancer Alley” area, 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 letter to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan cites federal violations of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act for 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 letter 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 impacts 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.