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Environmental group shuts down anti-PVC campaign

By: Gayle S. Putrich By: Steve Toloken

January 23, 2014

WASHINGTON — An environmental and public health watchdog group known for its campaigns against PVC and phthalates is shuttering its national campaigns to focus on grassroots activism and training.

Over the years the Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ), based in Falls Church, Va., has turned up the heat on the vinyl industry, with fact sheet, reports and educational campaigns labeling PVC as "the poison plastic" in an effort to get it removed from children's toys, schools and new construction.

Mike Schade, who led CHEJ's charge as campaign coordinator, said that in his eight years with the group, he has seen some of the world's largest companies, including Wal-Mart, Target, Sears and Best Buy create policies to phase out or completely eliminate PVC from their products.

"Another major accomplishment was the release of EPA's landmark study on the non-cancer effects of dioxin, which the [American Chemistry Council] and chemical industry was fighting for over 20 years. We have also supported successful procurement efforts, such as in New York City, reducing government procurement of PVC products," Schade told Plastics News via email. "We've seen a major market movement away from PVC in certain consumer products, from toys and electronics to sneakers, automobiles and packaging."

At the Vinyl Institute, Allen Blakey, vice president for industry and government affairs, notes that while CHEJ has been a formidable opponent, keeping the industry on its toes, the global vinyl market remains healthy.

"There is no meaningful evidence that vinyl is losing market share because of activist pressure, and attack groups have never shown any actual harm from the material. U.S. vinyl production is as high as it's ever been, some 15 billion pounds. What's more, our industry employs more than 350,000 people working in more than 2,900 facilities, and its combined economic value amounts to $54 billion," Blakey said. "I will say one thing about market pressure: it makes companies and products better. Competition among materials, as well as regulation and rising environmental awareness, have helped to focus this industry on studying and mitigating our impacts and improving the material and products."

Today, vinyl products are being certified as low-VOC, recycled, and sustainable, he said.

"Despite decades of pressure from opponents, consumers continue to recognize vinyl's safe, effective uses," Blakey said.

Schade, who is moving on to work with Safer Chemicals Healthy Families (SCHF) and its Mind the Store Campaign, says the work started by CHEJ is not yet complete and will be continued by other organizations as well as at the grassroots level by individuals the refocused CHEJ plans to train.

The building and construction sector has been "been a more challenging sector for our movement to tackle," Schade said, but he believes that industry will soon see change as well.

"New green building specifications adopted by USGBC and the Living Building Challenge will only further accelerate the green building sector away from toxic PVC and phthalates," he said. "The green building sector's move towards transparency, as seen in Pharos and the Health Product Declaration, will also drive the market towards safer PVC-free building materials."