PVC & Health
PVC (polyvinyl chloride) has direct and indirect effects on our health. We refer to indirect as damage to the environment, which in turn affects our health. In this text, we focus on the direct reference and finished products that traders and consumers come into contact with. The health hazards to humans in the PVC manufacturing process are only briefly mentioned here. Vinyl chloride alone (a starting material for PVC) can cause cancer and mutagenic effects in humans. VC disease" has been recognized by the employers' liability insurance associations as an occupational disease. The maximum permissible workplace concentration for PVC in the air breathed is 0.3mg/m³ in Germany.
What are plasticizers?
In the context of the topic "PVC and health", this is about plasticizers. These are additives/additions that are added to PVC during production so that it can be permanently deformed and remains elastic. This is referred to as soft PVC.
By far the largest group of plasticizers are the phthalates. And again, by far the most commonly used phthalates are: DINP (diisononyl phthalate), DEHP (diethylhexyl phthalate), DBP (dibutyl phthalate) and BBP (benzyl butyl phthalate).
How do plasticizers get into the body?
Plasticizers are not chemically bound to the plastic PVC. Over time, they can therefore escape as liquids or gases and be inhaled, for example, directly or via house dust. However, they can also be released from the PVC through direct contact with humans, for example through fat in the skin, sweat or saliva.
The content of phthalates in PVC products ranges from approx. 8 to 30 percent, depending on the product group. Principle: The softer and more elastic the product, the more plasticizers it contains.
PVC in household
The repertoire of everyday items containing soft PVC is vast: Floor coverings (PVC floor to carpet), cables, wall coverings, wallpapers, shower curtains, baby articles, seat covers, plastic bags, toys (also for pets), air mattresses, shoe soles, sports and leisure articles, vinyl gloves, car components, erotic articles, artificial leather, medicines, rubber boots, crayons, baby carriages, cosmetic articles such as shampoo, sun cream and nail varnish as well as packaging also of food etc. etc. Thereby 98 percent of all plasticizers are used in PVC.
This list goes beyond our product portfolio and the area of living. But we can use it to illustrate that, at least in industrialized countries, virtually everyone already has plasticizers in their bodies.
Dangers for health
Phthalates are harmful to health. Liver, kidneys and testicles, for example, can be attacked. In general, dangers have been known for many years and have also been adequately documented by scientific studies. In 2012, for example, a Swedish study suggested that people with diabetes are conspicuously contaminated with phthalates.
In October 2021, a study appeared in the prestigious scientific journal "Environmental Pollution" that found that in people between the ages of 55 and 63, the level of mortality was directly related to the amount of phthalates detected in their urine. The study examined 5,300 adults over the period from 2001 to 2010, with documented deaths by 2015. Previous studies in the U.S. have also identified these associations. Extrapolating, it is estimated that phthalates are responsible for 100,000 deaths there each year.
In 2022, a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute by the University of Vermont Cancer Center indicated that phthalates may contribute to the development of some cancers in children. According to the study, the risk of lymphoma, such as Hodgkin's or non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, increases twofold, and that of bone cancer even threefold.
Can I protect myself as a consumer?
Of course, you can research and obtain information. Not all plasticizers in PVC are hazardous or toxic. However, there is no general obligation to label all plasticizers contained in the product. Upon request, manufacturers are required within 45 days to provide information at least about all ingredients in their products that are on the list of substances of concern. The plasticizers DINP, DEHP, DBD and BBP mentioned above are among them.
Unfortunately, it is also the case that quite a few product groups are not simply made of a plastic plus plasticizers. A 2019 published Laboratory study of the Institute for Social-Ecological Research had examined nearly three dozen everyday plastic items, including yogurt pots, drinking bottles and shampoo bottles.
The result: 75 percent of all products tested contained substances that damage human cells. And this was despite the fact that only 260 of the 1,400 chemicals detected were identified beyond doubt.
But back to the question: YES, you can also protect yourself to a certain extent.
A life completely without contact with PVC is more or less impossible in Germany, for example. But a distinction can be made between product groups containing PVC that are unavoidable (e.g. cables) and those that can sometimes be dispensed with altogether. These include ...
- ... food packaging. Even bio-based plastics such as polylactic acid, paper and cardboard are not automatically free of plasticizers. If you buy unpackaged at the market or in stores, you play it safe.
- ... PVC flooring and wall coverings. Because for this there are alternatives that are not harmful to health. Decisions in this sense are sustainable and do not carry uncertainties. Apart from this, such alternatives are now not infrequently of significantly higher quality than the corresponding PVC products.