Personally, vinyl only makes me sick when a misguided soul uses it as a styling enhancement on a car roof. But Charlie Cray of Greenpeace's Midwest Toxics Campaign says Ward's Auto World arbitrarily ignored dangers to humans and the environment posed by vinyl and other chlorine-based plastics in our July piece, "A second look at vinyl"(see WAW -- July '95, p. 72).
Greenpeace and other environmental groups have mounted an assault on vinyl, officially known as polyvinyl chloride (PVC), in all products. especially food packaging. They say that dioxin, a carcinogen, can result from PVC production, incineration and disposal.
As a result of this pressure, PVC has been banned in some applications in Europe, and there is continuing pressure to "de-select" the material in many other applications. PVC products also may be banned from the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia.
The transportation industry uses only a small fraction of all vinyl produced (approximately 3% in the U.S.), but automakers -- mostly in Europe are being pressured to curtail use of PVC, and many already have.
Auto industry experts contacted by WAW say concern over chlorinated plastics currently is a "non-issue" in the U.S., and that worries over their hazards are exaggerated.
Most of Greenpeace's arguments against chlorine and automotive vinyl seem to be based on outdated information, auto industry sources say. For instance, incineration processes can be changed or avoided to prevent dioxin formation.
Furthermore, Sandy Labana, chairman of the Big Three's Vehicle Recycling Partnership and manager of the Polymer Science Dept. atMotor Co., says the potentially dangerous phthalate additives Mr. Cray decries were eliminated from automotive vinyls more than a decade ago.
Here's Mr. Cray's letter.
Drew Winter's July article on vinyl omitted critical environmental concerns, in effect prejudicially dismissing our and others' (including the International Joint Commission and the American Public Health Association) calls for a managed phase-out of PVC and other organochlorines. Among those concerns:
* The manufacture of VCM (vinyl chloride) -- the building block of PVC -- inescapably results in the formation and release of dioxins, PCBs and related ultratoxic compounds. Greenpeace samples of waste residues from various VCM plants in the U.S. found levels of dioxin as high as those in Agent Orange wastes. The incineration of these wastes results in the release of unburned dioxins and newly formed dioxins and other toxic by products of combustion. A year ago the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency concluded that dioxin causes cancer in wildlife and humans, and that it harms the immune and reproductive systems in minuscule doses.
* Vinyl residues left on recycled scrap metal contribute to dioxinformation in steel mills. Lead-battery manufacturers have begun to eliminate PVC because it is acknowledged as a precursor to hydrochloric acid emissions from secondary lead smelters.
* Additives compounded with PVC to give it specific qualities make vinyl recycling technically difficult and economically impractical Despite optimistic claims for vinyl recycling, most automobile vinyl ends up in fluff dumps, creating a unique environmental hazard. For instance, in 1993 the H&H fluff dump in Hammond, IN, caughtfire, spewing toxic gases over a neighborhood, causing the evacuation of residents and a local elementary school.
* The push to recycle parts has caused many European car manufacturers to begin phasing out the use of PVC in autos. Take-back guarantees, for instance, have caused some German manufacturers to substitute halogen-free plastics for PVC.and Opel, among others, are minimizing PVC in their production.
* Some additives used in PVC compounding -- such as phthalates (e.g. DEHP) used for soft vinyl -- are of particular concern. Soft vinyl contains up to 40% phthalates, which can leach out of the material. The German EPA has recommended a phase-out of DEHP, with a labelling requirement for interim uses. In April the Danish EPA released a report on chemicals which cause male reproductive problems, including lower sperm counts and higher rates of genital malformity and testicular cancer The report stated that "phthalates are the most abundant man-made environmental pollutants. "
Rather than trying "to ban a molecule from the periodic chart," a canard attributed in your article to one automotive engineer," Greenpeace has promoted the creation of transition planning mechanisms to minimize social and economic disruption from the phaseout of toxic organochlorines.
In other respects, we applaud the fact that you have begun to cover this important issue and hope you will continue to do so.