In the wake of its headline-grabbing probe into lead hazards in PVC miniblinds, the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission has turned its attention to vinyl windows and siding - which together consume more than a billion pounds of PVC a year. CPSC sent more than 500 letters to vinyl window manufacturers in late July asking for information on the possible use of lead in their products, according to the American Architectural Manufacturers Association. The industry group said vinyl windows do not present a health hazard.
``The vast majority of vinyl window profiles are lead-free. Historically, the use of lead stabilizers in vinyl window profiles has been limited to a very few producer s,'' AAMA said.
AAMA wants to know what is going on. In an Aug. 27 press release, the Palatine, Ill., trade association asked CPSC officials ``to issue a statement confirming their current position on windows and to outline their fu ture plans to investigate the vinyl window industry.''
An AAMA survey found that 22 of the top 24 window profile extruders in North America-representing more than 90 percent of production-are not using lead stabilizers. The two that use lead told AAMA they will replace it with other substances by the end of this year. Lead, used in very small amounts, acts as a heat stabilizer for PVC during extrusion. Vinyl window makers have moved to tin and other materials.
Lead is ``a non-issue'' in the U.S. vinyl siding industry said Jery Huntley, executive director of the Vinyl Siding Institute, a unit of the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. in Washington. She confirmed CPSC's interest in sid ing.
``They have informally asked us about the use of lead stabilizers in siding. We have communicated to them that, to our knowledge, lead stabilizers have not been used in vinyl siding since the 1970s,'' Huntley said.
CPSC spokesman Richard Frost confirmed the agency has ex-panded its focus beyond mini-blinds. He declined to identify what products are undergoing government scrutiny.
``We are testing some additional products. Once we have the results of those [tests], if it looks like they contain a lead hazard similar to the miniblinds, we will let people know,'' Frost said.
Richard Walker, AAMA technical director for vinyl windows, said the trade group decided to publicize the CPSC inq uiry to inform window industry officials not active in AAMA.
``Quite a few people were shocked by this when they received the letter,'' he said. ``We're trying to put people at ease who may not be close to the issue and may not be m embers of AAMA,'' he said.
In late June, the lead-in-mini-blinds issue leaped to the national headlines after the CPSC determined that foreign-made plastic miniblinds that contain lead sulfate as a stabilizer will deteriorate in hot sunlight and create a chalk-like dust harmful to children when ingested. The government said a child would have to wipe a dusty window blind, then put the hand in his mouth every day for 15-30 days to reach a level considered harmful.
Although no product recall was issued, CPSC administrator Ann Brown urged people with small children to throw away the blinds, which are imported from China, Taiwan, Indonesia and Mexico, and buy new lead-free ones made in the United States.
AAMA, meanwhile is quick to point out that vinyl windows are not vinyl miniblinds. AAMA's Walker met with nine CPSC staff members on Aug. 7.
``Unlike vinyl miniblind profiles, vinyl window profiles are designed to res ist the long-term rigors of extreme weathering conditions,'' AAMA said in its release.
At the Aug. 7 meeting, Walker detailed AAMA survey results and contrasted differences between the blinds and windows.
``Those differences include the limited use of lead stabilizers in vinyl window compounds, the small percentage by weight in those compounds and the addition of additives for [ultraviolet] radiation protection and long-term weathering properties which keep the lead chemically bonded in the profile,'' the trade group said. ``Because very few producers use lead, and since the exterior surfaces are not accessible by young children, the risk from a lead-poisoning hazard is virtually nonexistent.''
AAMA declined to identify the two extrusion companies that still use lead, but said those companies can document that their windows are safe.
Chlorine, not lead, has been PVC's biggest public relations concern in recent years.
``It's news to me that lead in window extrusions is a concern,'' said Alex Wilson, editor of Environmental Building News, a newsletter in Brattleboro, Vt. ``If indeed it does prove accurate, it would be another strike against PVC and it would fuel the interest in producing alternative extrusions'' such as ABS.