Positive Responses to Negative Statements About PVC: Part 1

Recently there have been renewed criticisms of vinyl building products by some activists who have traditionally taken an anti-PVC stand. In this post and others to follow we’ll address some of these negative statements with facts about the use of vinyl building materials.

Statement: “The USGBC report concluded that PVCs are bad.”

The facts: This statement is a reaction to The US Green Building Council’s Technical and Scientific Advisory Committee‘s (TSAC) February 2007 report: Assessment of the Technical Basis for a PVC-Related Materials Credit for PVC.

In reality, the TSAC PVC Task Group reaffirmed their conclusions from the earlier draft report that PVC should not be considered for a negative credit in the LEED rating system. According to USGBC’s president, “TSAC’s report identified critical gaps in our understanding of how materials impact our health and environment.” TSAC’s conclusions on PVC’s environmental impact state that awarding a LEED credit for avoiding PVC’s would be a “blunt instrument” that could “steer decision makers toward using materials that are worse on most environmental impacts.”

The report was not intended to determine which alternative is “best” in any application, only whether PVC is consistently among the worst alternatives. Only four categories of products were reviewed in the study: siding, pipe, resilient flooring, and window frames. To generalize any findings and apply them to all vinyl products would be a misrepresentation of the information. Human health analysis focused on what may happen if end-of-life PVC burns accidentally in landfills or backyard. But it did not consider the same potential with other materials compared in the analysis. By its own admission, the report states that “Health impacts from exposure to dioxin emissions from accidental landfill fires and barrel burning of PVC and other materials are highly uncertain for a variety of reasons.”

The upshot: When considered over their entire lifespan, products made of PVC are no worse and may be better than alternatives that have not been tested.

In our next installment, we’ll look at this statement: PVC products are made using chlorine and chlorine is bad. Environmentalists are right to want to eliminate chlorine from the face of the earth.