While the big rubber duck floating in Kaohsiung’s harbor may have charmed many, not everyone is amused. Several environmental groups and activists said the Rubber Duck, by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman, is bad for people’s health and a threat to the environment.
They panned the Greater Kaohsiung Government for ostentatiously promoting the inflatable duck made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which they said is a hazard to human health and leaves toxic residues in water and soil.
Speaking at a press briefing on Monday, former vice president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) questioned Hofman’s choice of material.
“Why didn’t the artist take into account PVC’s toxicity and its harmful effect on people?” Lu asked.
“If this was done only for a commercial motive, then this commercial opportunity could turn into an environmental crisis,” she said.
Citizen of the Earth, Taiwan (CET), an environmental organization, said the giant rubber duck at Greater Kaohsiung’s Glory Pier has drawn thousands of public admirers — and along with it, hordes of vendors and store merchants cashing in on the craze by hawking plastic duck toys that are also made of PVC.
“Besides being a toxic material in itself, PVC products often contain plasticizers, along with lead, cadmium and other heavy metals. The public has gone crazy over these rubber duckies, not realizing the toxic threat they pose to human health and the environment,” CET researcher Tsai Hui-hsun (蔡卉荀) said.
“The Rubber Duck floating at the Glory Pier is made of more than 1,000kg of thick PVC sheets. It is sitting there exposed to the elements like the wind and rain .... and the strong heat in southern Taiwan. Under these conditions, the toxic material could dissolve in the water and pollute the harbor, as well as flow into rivers and creeks,” Tsai said.
Tsai added that toy rubber ducks also pose a danger to children, saying they are simply labeled as made of “plastic,” instead of specifically as made of PVC, thus misleading the public who might not be aware of the potential health hazard.
Wu Ming-ling (吳明玲), resident toxicologist at the Taipei Veterans General Hospital, said PVC is classified as a hazardous material, highly polluting to the environment and, under high-temperature combustion, it produces highly toxic compounds.
According to the US’ Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), short-term exposure to high levels of vinyl chloride in the air could affect the central nervous system, causing dizziness, drowsiness and headaches. Chronic exposure to vinyl chloride through inhalation and oral exposure in humans have resulted in liver damage. The EPA has also classified vinyl chloride as a Group A human carcinogen.
“Because it is toxic to humans and the environment, PVC is not recommended for making toys. Manufacturers usually add plasticizers to PVC to make toys more pliable and soft,” Wu said.
“Plasticizers are endocrine disrupting chemicals that affect the human hormone system and prolonged exposure can result in lower sperm count in men, underdevelopment of the testes and diminution of sexual organs in young males, breast cancer in women, prostate cancer in men, damage to the immune system and other health hazards,” she said.
Tsai urged the government to enforce the law requiring manufacturers to label PVC material in products, as the public has the right to know.
Government agencies should stop handing out PVC ducks as giveaways and make plans on how to deal with the problem of PVC materials collected as trash.
CET and other environmental organizations also called on the Greater Kaohsiung Government not to incinerate or bury PVC ducks collected after the exhibition to prevent pollution.
They also advised the public to be wise and read product labels, boycott toys and products made of PVC and never allow children to take the rubber toys into the bathtub with them or to lick them.
Additional reporting by Wang Jung-hsiang, Huang Hsu-lei, and Lin Shih-ping