WASHINGTON - Greenpeace officials said Feb. 21 they are trying to stop the expansion of a PPG Industries/Vista Chemical vinyl chloride monomer plant in Lake Charles, La., by releasing research statistics contending vinyl factories are the world's largest producers of dioxin conta-mination. Gail Martin, Greenpeace toxins campaign manager and dioxin researcher, said Greenpeace hopes not only to ``put a hold on the expansion,'' but that elimination of plants that use chlorine to produce plastics ``is on the horizon'' for the group.
On Jan. 24, the neighboring PPG Industries Inc. and Vista Chemicals Co. facilities said they will form a joint venture that nearly will double PPG's current production of 650 million pounds of vinyl chloride monomer per year in Lake Charles. The cost was not disclosed for the project, which is expected to be completed early in 1997.
In hopes of getting the Environmental Protection Agency to monitor alleged dioxin output at chemical plants, Greenpeace officials said they secretly collected 51 samples from nine facilities in the Gulf of Mexico between March and December.
Test results show that wastes created by PVC feedstock production ``are some of the most contaminated wastes produced,'' with dioxin levels comparable to those found in wastes from the production of the herbicide Agent Orange, said Rick Hind, legislative director of Greenpeace's toxins campaign.
The other targeted plants are those of Vulcan Chemicals and Borden Chemical Co. in Geismar, La.; Formosa Plastics Corp. USA in Point Comfort, Texas; Georgia Gulf Corp. in Plaquemine, La.; Dow Chemical Co. in Freeport, Texas; and Geon Co. in LaPorte, Texas.
Hind noted that indicators of dioxin in samples taken around PVC/VCM plants are ``in wide supply.'' He condemned dioxin as an ``ultrahazardous waste'' that, although heavily regulated by the EPA in paper manufacturing, is ignored by the agency in the production of plastics.
Martin said only that samples were taken from incinerator wastes and from unspecified effluent both inside and outside the plants.
``We did not have the ability to sample vents and smokestacks'' as a means of determining actual levels of chemicals that indicate the presence of dioxin at the plants, she said.
The group's claims immediately were criticized by Bob Burnett, executive director of the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.'s Vinyl Institute in Morristown, N.J.
``Chlorine in does not equal dioxin out,'' he said in a telephone interview, adding, ``This is not the first spurious claim by this organization.''
William Carroll, a scientist with the Chemical Manufacturers Association's Chlorine Chemistry Council, called Greenpeace's research ``slapdash - especially outside the plant.''
``There is no possible way PVC can be the largest producer of dioxins. Production of PVC has increased by a factor of three since 1970, from 4.7 million pounds to over 11 million pounds. Dioxin in the environment has been falling and is down by 30 percent in the same time period.''
Greenpeace's tests were performed by Paul Johnston, a researcher at Exeter University in Exeter, England, based on samples allegedly taken on site and in the area surrounding the nine facilities. However, Johnston admitted, no corroborating research at an American university or independent testing laboratory has been undertaken.
Martin said Greenpeace felt American research facilities might have a conflict of interest in that their clients might include chemical companies.
EPA now is reassessing the effect of dioxin in the environment and has asked industry sources for new data regarding the presence of dioxin.
The vinyl industry filed comments Jan. 13 with EPA in the three areas requested for public review by the agency: emissions generated during vinyl production; those generated during incineration of vinyl-containing wastes; and emissions generated during house fires involving vinyl products.
``We looked at the product in [PVC] pipe resin, taking eleven samples from six facilities,'' Burnett said, adding that all registered at undetectable levels, he said. ``As for accidental fires, we have completed our study - at most, dioxin released to the atmosphere as a result of fires is less than 1 gram per year.''