PVC critics think they smell blood. But this time they won't win — at least not without a long, tough fight.
The target is medical products. A group called Health Care Without Harm — whose members include Greenpeace — has launched a national campaign to phase out vinyl in essential items like blood and IV bags.
Criticism of PVC medical products is nothing new. Health Care Without Harm and others have been singing this tune for years. Up until now, most of the complaints have centered on dioxin produced when PVC and other items are burned in antiquated hospital incinerators.
Now critics are focusing on dangers associated with leaching phthalate plasticizers. This is a gripe they've had a lot of success with recently. After reports about phthalates in children's toys, U.S. toy makers and retailers quickly pulled some products off shelves and agreed to find an alternative material for children's teethers.
This time the critics picked an application where industry won't roll over and play dead.
Medical device makers have been aware of concerns about PVC for at least a decade. They've studied the potential dangers, and they've looked at every PVC-alternative that's come down the block. And there have been a lot. Some applications have switched — for instance, a lot of thermoformed packaging for medical devices is now in PET or other materials.
But PVC has held fast, despite the chronic scrutiny. Price is one reason. Even more important are concerns about how alternative materials would perform, and whether they can be sterilized or welded like PVC.
Plus, despite all the noise, critics simply have not proved PVC medical products are unsafe. They've created that impression by citing lab studies of rats that imply danger, and by playing on the public's fear and distrust of the chemical industry. That worked with toddlers' toys, but it shouldn't be as effective in the medical market.
As always, the PVC and medical device industry will be on the defensive in this battle. In the meantime, industry must redouble its efforts to research and prove the safety of PVC products, to communicate that message honestly and effectively, and to continue to research alternative plasticizers.