We try so hard for equal treatment of races, religions, the handicapped, and can be rightly proud of our efforts. So why do we show blatant and mass-supported prejudice toward a material: PVC? There are people who claim it is dangerous, and this myth has been magnified and sanctified by so many others that it is now mainstream. Yet time and again PVC has been shown as far more of a benefit than a handicap.
The latest little sneak attack is in a Washington Post article about a boy who died a few days after ingesting a small, solid lead charm that came with a pair of Reebok shoes. Never mind that lead is a cumulative poison, and affects mental development and the nervous system over time, but the child in those few days had “flu-like symptoms, including vomiting.” Never mind that the charm had already gone into the alkaline-neutral environment of the intestine, where it was no longer subject to attack by stomach acids which could dissolve and ionize it (necessary to travel around the body). Never mind that unnamed health and safety officials said the death was “highly unusual.” Lead is the enemy, because we need enemies we think we can do without.
What does this have to do with plastics? Near the end of the article, the subject of vinyl lunch boxes is brought up. California's Center for Environmental Health found high levels of lead in “jewelry and vinyl lunch boxes,” sued retailers and manufacturers, reached an agreement on the jewelry issue, and in February it got a major producer of lunch boxes and coolers (InGear) to “phase out the use of PVC, which often contains high lead levels.”
I called the center, informed it (to its surprise) of the environmental benefits of PVC (less energy used in its manufacture and processing, nonflammability, etc.), but got the same litany of angiosarcoma (the issue with VCM in the '70s) and dioxins — the devils in our world that we have to exorcise to become pure. They didn't like the idea that salting driveways and roads adds far more chlorine into the waste stream than PVC. When I told them that the PVC and similar issues were screens and diversions to avoid facing the issue of too much consumption (use less stuff), I was politely told to have a nice day.
PVC does not contain lead, as any high school student should (but may not) know. There are lead stabilizers used in some applications unlikely to be eaten, such as buried cable and conduit, and even these are rare in products made in North America and Europe. Why didn't InGear officials say they would not use any PVC with lead stabilizers? Maybe because they are buying PVC from places without responsible oversight, maybe because they don't want to do testing, maybe they just settled to avoid big legal costs or maybe because they don't realize the minuscule danger posed by even lead-stabilized boxes. They, too, may have swallowed the myth. They may not have known of tests run by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, quoted by the Post at the very end of the article: “Children would have to rub their lunch box and then lick their hands more than 600 times every day, for about 15-30 days, in order for the lunch box to present a health hazard.”
Never mind, the non-plastic-savvy reader sees the InGear phaseout as good for the kids and the CPSC example as another case where a government agency is the apologist for business. Where are the people who can believably and effectively say the truths about PVC, not only in lunch boxes, but regarding dioxins, house siding, and even issues blamed on PVC where it isn't even used? I've heard PVC accused of infant crib death, headaches, cancer, you name it. It carries the image of BAD, so any badness can be put upon it.
There are understandable reasons for this mass delusion. The people want a scapegoat, something they can zap without materially changing their lifestyle (or so they think), to express their feeling of helplessness as corporate greed, mass (read impersonal) production, and imports from who-knows-where eat at our health and well-being. Never mind that we have among the best health care in the world, that life spans are longer and that fresh food is good and plentiful (if you aren't too lazy or busy to cook it).
Responsible people don't buy artificial prejudices, and they respect the rights of all. Responsible people should not fall for the junk science that preys on our fears and anxieties, and distorts the truth, to avoid facing and dealing with it.
Allan L. Griff