WASHINGTON — The European Commission has backed away from a ban on PVC in automobiles, after the U.S. government protested the plan and said it would pose a trade barrier.
The original proposal was part of an effort to reduce waste from cars going to landfills and to reduce soil and ground-water pollution from discarded automobiles, said the commission.
Although the commission's environmental agency no longer wants to ban the plastic, it noted in the July 9 proposal that ``the problems caused by PVC'' will be the focus of a future initiative, and it said that PVC can be easily replaced by other materials.
The commission's new proposal said PVC fires produce high concentrations of dioxins and hydrochloric acids, and that PVC incineration produces less energy and generates hazardous waste. Commission officials were not available for comment.
European vinyl industry officials disputed the statement, arguing that fires are dangerous because of carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons. Modern incinerators destroy dioxin and have sophisticated cleaning equipment that removes contaminants from flue gases, officials said.
Paul Jackson, external affairs manager for the European Council of Vinyl Manufacturers in Brussels, Belgium, said it is not clear what additional action the commission might take. The proposal must be approved by the European Parliament and Council.
U.S. industry officials hailed the commission's decision to back away from its earlier ban. Vinyl Institute Executive Director Robert Burnett said the industry and U.S. government mobilized against the plan because it would have eliminated a material that is used ``very satisfactorily'' in cars.
European Commission Environment Commissioner Ritt Bjerragaard has a vendetta against PVC, Burnett said.
Greenpeace criticized European officials for weakening their earlier proposal, and said the European government ``surrendered environmental and health protection to commercial and economic interests.''
U.S. government officials said in letters in late 1996 and in May that the ban would be a ``great challenge'' to American manufacturers, which export $1.5 billion worth of vehicles a year to the European Union.
``While some potential substitutes for PVC exist, none has undergone the rigorous testing to determine performance under extreme temperature conditions that are typical for passenger vehicle applications,'' Stuart Eizenstat, Commerce Department undersecretary for international trade, wrote to the European Union in a Nov. 27 letter.
The original proposal would have phased out PVC and hazardous metals such as lead, mercury and cadmium in cars after Jan. 1, 2002, but the new plan says those heavy metals can be used as long as they are not shredded, landfilled or incinerated.
Commission officials said 8 million to 9 million vehicles are discarded annually in the European Union countries; and 25 percent of that, by weight, is shredded and contains significant amounts of heavy metals and other hazardous substances. That, along with car oil waste, accounts for about 10 percent of all hazardous waste in those countries.