A long-awaited report on whether PVC is an environmentally friendly building material concludes that vinyl is no worse than competing materials and should not be singled out as particularly bad for the environment.
The report from the U.S. Green Building Council, which reviewed 2,500 studies of the environmental and human health impact of vinyl and other building materials, rejected calls by some in the building industry for a blanket statement against PVC.
``The available evidence does not support a conclusion that PVC is consistently worse than alternative materials on a life cycle environmental and health basis,'' GBC wrote. ``PVC does not emerge as a clear winner or loser.''
The Dec. 22 report was being closely watched, and one observer said a negative rating for PVC could have sent a strong market signal, similar to how some consumers seek out food with an organic label. GBC operates one of the most popular systems for rating the environmental performance of buildings.
Generally, reaction split along expected lines. Industry officials praised the report, which was put together by an expert panel appointed by GBC, while environmentalists predicted it would do little to help green-minded architects and builders.
``Our preliminary sense is that the [GBC's] task group took a comprehensive, scientific approach,'' said Tim Burns, president of the Vinyl Institute, a trade group in Arlington, Va. ``Whether it is the energy savings provided by vinyl windows or the resource conservation of durable products like pipe, siding and flooring, vinyl has a place in green buildings.''
The head of the Healthy Building Network, an advocacy group that calls for phasing out vinyl, called it a ``step in the wrong direction for the U.S. GBC.''
Bill Walsh, national coordinator at the Washington-based HBN, said the report is not transparent and is a departure from the council's previous projects analyzing materials.
He questioned whether the report gave enough weight to pollution from cancer-causing vinyl chloride that leaks into communities near vinyl plants. He added that the report should not be seen as a clean bill of health for vinyl, but only that existing evidence doesn't say it is worse than other products.
``It's not going to help the green building movement figure out what is a green building material,'' said Walsh.
GBC formed the expert panel in 2002, after the group had spent several years debating whether to give a credit in its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system for buildings that did not use PVC. Officially, GBC is neutral on vinyl.
The report is not the group's final decision. The panel will solicit comments and then make a final recommendation to the council.
While the report said it is not possible to draw general conclusions about PVC, it did note some specific applications where other materials appear to be friendlier to the environment than vinyl.
In pipe, for example, the report seemed to favor ABS plastic, saying that it performed relatively well while neither PVC nor cast iron performed consistently poorest in various environmental impact categories. The report also said that PVC and cast iron have ``higher total mortality risks'' than ABS for both cancer and general pollution.
The report attempts to look at the impact from a product's manufacture, use and disposal. It studied pipe, siding, resilient flooring and windows.
In siding, it said wood fared best and cement worse. And for windows, it said that energy efficiency is more important than building material, and it said wood and PVC fared best in efficiency. For flooring, it seemed to suggest cork was best.
The report also noted that there are gaps in the data that need to be filled, and said that many of the studies are ``overwhelmingly PVC focused.''
Burns said the report echoes recent conclusions from a European Union report, which found that vinyl had environmental impacts similar to that of other materials.