DAVOS, SWITZERLAND - PVC is hanging on in Europe and the United States, despite charges from environmentalists that it is linked to hazardous dioxin emissions. Greenpeace and other groups have stepped up their assault on PVC in all products, especially food packaging, because they say dioxin, a carcinogen, can result from PVC's production, incineration and disposal.
Industry's case for PVC was presented at the Recycle '95 Worldwide Recycling Conference, held May 15-19 in Davos. Ironically, the host country has banned the use of PVC in some packaging, and the material remains under scrutiny in some other European nations.
John R. Svalander, director of the European Council of Vinyl Manufacturers based in Brussels, told conference attendees that PVC can be recycled and that the list of uses for post-consumer PVC is diversifying in Europe, including in clothing, pipe, computer materials, and windows and profiles.
``PVC is beset by politics,'' he said. ``Throughout Europe the attacks on PVC - and in particular the deselection of the product - seem to be more and more politically contrived. Ironically, though, when PVC is viewed dispassionately, its overall performance - technical, economic and environmental - is helping more and more to combat unwarranted deselection.''
That view was echoed by Robert Burnett, executive director of the Vinyl Institute, a Morristown, N.J., unit of the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.
Burnett cited evidence from a Rigo and Rigo Associates study, sponsored by the institute, in which 1,700 test samples were assessed from 155 different incineration sites, and no connection between the burning of PVC and the creation of dioxin was found.
Burnett said that attacks on vinyl claiming links to dioxin are unfounded, since PVC plants are virtually closed-loop facilities, with waste being recycled or neutralized in other ways.
``Currently we are in the process of doing similar tests in the United States, and we expect those results will tell us that vinyl production accounts for about 6 grams of 19.8 pounds of dioxin EPA estimates are emitted into the environment each year from all sources,'' he said.
Noting that the complete data on the Rigo and Rigo study have not been released, Charles Cray, Midwest toxins campaigner with the Chicago office of Washington-based Greenpeace, said the group stands by its claims of links between PVC and dioxin.
``The combustion and feed data on those studies are not clear and may not be consistent with the levels necessary to determine the links to dioxin,'' he said.
Karl-Rudolf Kurtz, director of PVC product development for Ludwigshafen, Germany-based petrochemical giant BASF AG, said PVC continues to do well in the European marketplace in a number of applications.
``The PVC market growth was about 5 percent last year and should continue,'' he said. ``If you look at windows, for instance, makers have used ABS, or wood or metal, but PVC is the best when you look at the properties.''