Thu, Feb 26, 2009 - Page 2 News List

PVC harmful to humans and planet, group warns

TOXIC While attempts to ban the popular plastic were made in 2006, technical hurdles as well as opposition by manufacturers have made it difficult to find alternatives

By Meggie Lu  /  STAFF REPORTER

An environmental group yesterday called on the government to ban polyvinylchloride (PVC), saying it was harmful to humans and the environment.

“PVC is the second most commonly used plastic in Taiwan. Its life cycle — from production, usage, to disposal — is a direct and indirect threat to human health,” Taiwan Watch Institute secretary-general Hsieh Ho-lin (謝和霖) said.

In addition to a polluting manufacturing process, PVC waste produces dioxins when incinerated, Hsieh said.

When PVC products are used, the danger comes principally from PVC additives such as plasticizers and stabilizers, Hsieh said, because “without plasticizers, PVC is a lot less useful and without stabilizers, PVC is unstable when hot.”

“Among the five most commonly used plastics [PE, PVC, PP, PS and ABS], PVC is the only one that contains chloride, which enables it to be shaped easily when mixed with plasticizers,” Hsieh said.

“This enables manufacturers to inexpensively mass produce an array of plastic products with varying hardness. For example, while without plasticizers PVC can be hard like plastic pipes, with between 50 percent and 70 percent plasticizers, it can be as soft as food wrap,” Hsieh said.

“The most commonly used plasticizer, DEHP is harmful to the reproductive system … It has been found to damage the penis and testicles of male fetuses,” Hsieh said.

In addition, PVC stabilizers are mostly heavy metals, such as cadium, which is harmful to kidneys, and lead, which affects intelligence in babies and adults, Hsieh said.

“What is alarming is that as most plasticizers are oil-soluble, harmful compounds such as DEHP, lead and cadmium may seep out of PVC products and be absorbed by human bodies, even without heating,” Hsieh said.

This occurs, for example, when greasy food comes into contact with PVC food wraps, he said.

Last year, a study conducted by National Taiwan University and National Cheng Kung University showed that DEHP levels in pregnant Taiwanese women were four to 13 times that of pregnant US women, Hsieh said.

“As such, we call on the government to ban PVC altogether,” he said.

The director-general of the Environmental Protection Administration’s department of Solid Waste Control, Ho Soon-ching (何舜琴), said that a total ban was infeasible for the time being as the flexibility and plasticity of PVC in some products, such as IV bags and tubes, was hard to achieve using other methods.

As for food containers and wrappers, Ho said that although the administration had tried to ban PVC in 2006, the plan was stalled because of protests from retailers.

“Currently, we try to limit PVC use by increasing processing fees for its recycling,” she said.

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