Plastics are synthetic organic polymers of high molecular mass, mainly petrochemicals (fossil fuels). Although made from natural compounds, they are processed in ways that negate their degradation back to natural compounds. A slew of carcinogenic, neurotoxic and hormone altering toxins are involved at every stage of plastic manufacture, disposal of waste residues from production, usage, and end of life.
Bisphenol A and Phthalates are added to plastics to make them hard and soft respectively. These are proven toxic chemicals. Phthalates are added with vinyl for flexible polyvinyl chloride (PVC) products.
“Phthalates migrate into the air, into food and into people including babies in their mother’s wombs. Phthalates can be released from soft PVC by surface contact, especially where mechanical pressure is applied (e.g. during chewing of a PVC teether).”
PVC and Health
Compounds added to plastics like vinyl Chloride (PVC), dioxins (PVC), Phthalates, Bisphenol A etc. are some of the most noxious and potent toxins on the planet. They leach and end up circulating about the water, air and land, from where they accumulate in higher amounts progressing up in the food chain to humans.
Let’s take a look at the common uses for PVC and some of its ill-effects on health:
In fact, there are a lot of food contact applications for PVC as well which put it in direct contact with food products:
PVC has NO SAFE USE, is difficult to recycle and its disposal is unsafe and hazardous. The people involved in PVC manufacture and installation (labourers, electrician, plumbers etc.) are very vulnerable to its toxicity along with the users. Since PVC is ubiquitous, it is not possible to shy away from complete usage of it, especially the building materials and medical equipment. What can be done, however, is Refusing and Reducing it wherever possible.
What can you do?
Refusing use of PVC where possible is the best option, reducing it or replacing it with a less harmful plastic in the absence of a non-plastic alternative is your next best choice!
Here are some alternatives to PVC products:
PVC Food Packaging:
Fresh food purchased without any plastic packaging
Plastic teethers (even the ones that claim to be Phthalate-free or BPA-free!):
Wooden teether, organic teethers, natural compounds’ (like natural rubber; although this needs some thought to ensure rubber is high grade and 100% natural), wooden spoon, frozen washcloth, frozen carrot or banana etc. Besides natural products, silicone teethers are a well-known alternative pitched to plastic teethers.
Coating-free wooden toys or bamboo toys, wooden toys finished in beeswax and organic oil (e.g. jojoba oil) etc, rubber balls painted with food-grade colour, cotton swimming aids etc.
Ceramic tiles, recycled glass tiles, cork, Stratica, Linoleum, Stone flooring, Bamboo or wooden Flooring
Vinyl Blinds/ Curtains:
Wood, Aluminium, natural fabric, wicker etc.
Wood, Aluminium windows.
Wood, Fibre Cement, Aluminium
Avoid wallpapers or use natural fibres.
Natural rubber, wool (a natural water repellent especially with a tighter weave), oilcloth (not the modern ones coated with vinyl), waxed cotton, waxed canvas, waxed hemp. (Natural fabrics like cotton and hemp can be applied wax-based waterproof treatments on after purchase too.)
PVC Inflatable pools:
Avoid them or another available material is Polyurethane (which is plastic again).
Copper, cast iron, concrete, vitrified clay, High Density Polyethylene (which is Plastic too, but in this case a lesser evil!).
PVC Hoses (Lead leaches into the garden water, soil and plants from these):
Nickel-plated lead-free/ PVC-free hose, rubber hoses, polyurethane hoses (are plastic too) etc.
Cotton or Hemp garden gloves etc.
Wooden furniture, metal furniture, wicker stools etc.
The above list is in no way exhaustive. There are many more alternatives available, in the pipeline or under DIY category. The list includes those products that we as individual consumers have the choice to decide.
Contrastingly, medical fields’ usage is not up to us to decide. However, in the references below there are some resources to begin with to inform consumers on PVC e.g. what health sector uses on them. As informed citizens, we may then advocate for a fundamental change to switch from these toxic products even in medicine and other major areas. Some alternatives may be costlier than PVC in the beginning, but putting them in a long-term and holistic perspective (alternatives last longer, safer to use and dispose, easily recyclable and in case of natural products simply degradable, healthier options, plastic and plasticisers free etc.) leads to a rational inclination towards the alternatives.
Choose your health by Choosing the environment for they are truly inseparable. Refuse and Reduce PVC around you.
Johnson S, Saikia N, Sahu R. Centre for Science and Environment. New Delhi: Phthalate in toys. Laboratory Study.