The PVC industry had the world's attention June 22, and for a change it was happy to be in the spotlight.
Former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop pronounced phthalates completely safe in medical devices and toys. His declaration was reported widely in the popular press. This is the same press that a year ago had never heard of phthalates, but just seven months ago helped bully retailers into pulling soft vinyl toys from store shelves.
A variety of commentators picked up on Koop's study, and Koop himself authored an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal. Much of the coverage made a connection between his study and a recent report on the safety of silicone breast implants. The commentators criticized the trend toward ``junk'' science that attacks products with antecdotal evidence that doesn't stand up to the rigors of scientific inquiry.
In this celebrity-crazed era, a stamp of approval from Koop seems to be just the prescription that the vinyl industry needed. Koop was arguably the most visible surgeon general in U.S. history. He used the office as a bully pulpit, and in the process won a gold-plated reputation as an advocate for public health issues.
Critics attacked the Koop study, arguing that the American Council on Science and Health, which organized the project, was funded by, and therefore a pawn of, chemical industry interests. Given Koop's stature, it will be difficult to make that charge stick.
The key now will be for the vinyl industry to sustain its success. It needs to reinforce Koop's conclusion and create a public perception that vinyl products are safe. It needs to convince a few former customers to shift course publicly and go back to using PVC.
In the meantime, it should continue to support research into the safety of PVC, as well as research and development efforts to make vinyl resin production, use and disposal as safe as possible.