Is Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) Safe for Healthcare Construction?
05 August 2015
Since its discovery in the early 1920s, Polyvinyl Chloride, or PVC, has found its way into many items that we live with and use every day. Vinyl’s versatility and fire resistant nature helps make it one of the largest volume plastics produced in North America.
Vinyls composition is quite simple: chlorine, based on common salt, and ethylene, from natural gas. By employing further chemistry, vinyl can be made flexible, rigid or semi-liquid; clear or colorful; thick or thin.
It is important to note that not all Vinyls are the same, and there needs to be a clear delineation between rigid and flexible vinyl.
Much of the concern regarding PVC centers on flexible vinyl, especially the flexible vinyl used to manufacture toys. Flexible vinyl contains a plasticizer called phthalates (“thal-ates”) – that’s what makes it flexible – and it is phthalates that are purported to be harmful to human health.
Many rigid vinyl building products used in Healthcare Facility construction contain no phthalates – that’s why products such as surface protection sheeting, corner guards, wall guards, and vinyl handrail covers are rigid. Industry-recognized manufacturer, InPro Corporation, provides rigid vinyl sheet and profile vinyl that have been GREENGUARD® tested and certified to not off-gas. They don’t off-gas because they have no phthalates.
Another concern voiced about vinyl is dioxin release during the manufacturing of PVC monomer. It is a notable accomplishment that dioxin release has dropped 90% since 1987. The PVC industry has reduced dioxin release significantly – so much so that PVC manufacturing doesn’t even appear in the EPA statistics on environmental release of dioxin. Today, the largest release of dioxin into the atmosphere is backyard burning of trash, leaves and other materials. A close second is medical waste incineration. [Source: http://www.dioxinfacts.org/sources_trends/trends.html]
Some have also raised the issue of the toxicity of vinyl chloride, a primary gas-based ingredient in PVC. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the EPA have strict regulations governing workplace exposure and environmental emissions of vinyl chloride. The entire vinyl manufacturing industry re-engineered its production operations in the 1970s, and has been in compliance ever since.
There has been much discussion and debate surrounding PVC with many organizations choosing to drastically reduce, or even try and eliminate it, from their new construction projects. As such, many building material manufacturers now offer their products in either a PVC or PVC-Free option, giving end-users a choice of what to include in their facility. PVC-Free products are marketed heavily; but is tried and tested Rigid PVC really as harmful as we are often made to believe?