The U.S. Green Building Council is taking a comprehensive look at whether PVC should be considered part of an environmentally friendly building.
The Washington-based trade group for the green building industry has launched a study that aims to compare PVC with other materials in a range of construction applications, including pipe and siding, to rate the environmental and health impact of vinyl.
It's not the first time GBC has examined vinyl.
The group proposed in 2000 that builders get credits for not using PVC, but backed away from that after plastics industry groups objected. Now, after several years of trying to figure out how to proceed, the group is restarting the debate by hosting a forum on PVC in early February in Washington and putting together a committee of experts to do one of the most comprehensive reviews of vinyl in construction.
The immediate debate is only about how vinyl should be treated in GBC's voluntary program for rating whether a building is green, known as the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design guidelines.
But the outcome is likely to have wider implications, because the council's decisions are closely watched, including by local and state governments when they write laws awarding tax credits and other benefits for environmentally preferable designs.
``The LEED determination of how they will handle this is critical because it's expanded by reference into so many codes,'' said Bill Walsh, coordinator of the Washington-based Healthy Building Network, which wants the council to discourage use of PVC.
Tim Burns, the executive director of the Vinyl Institute in Arlington, Va., welcomes GBC's analysis.
``We're comfortable there's going to be a fair and balanced review,'' he said. ``We're confident that vinyl will do well ... and we think the review will show that vinyl has environmental benefits.''
Burns said the review also will have to take a comprehensive look at the environmental impact of vinyl's competitors.
Because the role of PVC is controversial within the council, it has been difficult for the organization to come up with a process and find a panel of experts without obvious ties to one side or the other, said Nigel Howard, vice president for LEED and international programs at GBC.
The expert panel has examined at least 1,000 studies of the environmental and health impact of PVC and alternate materials in a range of construction applications, including siding and pipe, and is feeding that into a matrix. The group is not doing any new research, he said.
The February meeting is to get input on its methodology, and there could be a later meeting to talk about vinyl's attributes, Howard said. He declined to say how long it might take the council to make a decision, but he said the group will be thorough.
The review committee will be chaired by Scot Horst, a sustainable materials consultant with the Athena Sustainable Materials Institute, which does research into environmental issues in construction.
Both sides traded barbs and lengthy technical studies in the first round of GBC's debate.
The Healthy Building Network and others argue that production and disposal of vinyl releases ethylene dichloride and vinyl chloride monomer, both suspected carcinogens, along with dioxin, into the atmosphere. The group also argues that very little post-consumer vinyl is recycled.
But VI argues that HBN overstates releases of EDC, VCM and dioxin, and it said that while the post-consumer recycling rate for vinyl is less than for PET bottles, most vinyl is used in durable products that still are in service.