Readers of Plastics News deserve a broader understanding of the threat posed by hazardous substances in PVC products than that provided in Allan Griff's opinion letter of April 3. I am deeply concerned at how easily Griff dismissed the “flu-like symptoms, including vomiting” experienced by the boy who died a few days after ingesting a small, solid lead charm. The child died from acute lead poisoning, whose symptoms include flu-like symptoms and vomiting.
Lead poisoning does not have to be acute to have serious effects. Many children in this country are exposed to PVC products that can raise their blood lead levels higher than the acceptable limit of 10 micrograms per deciliter set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These children are at risk for developmental disabilities and long-term health effects, including osteoporosis. Health professionals at CDC are realizing that the developing systems of children are so sensitive to the effects of lead that any exposure level, no matter how small, may harm their health because the timing, duration, and pattern of exposure is likely to be as important as the dose.
Plasticizers, stabilizers, and other additives give PVC the properties needed to manufacture roofing, wall coverings, medical equipment, and many other products. The health effects of some of these additives, such as lead and cadmium, have been well-documented. Small amounts of these additives are released from the products during use and after disposal.
Scientists are studying the health effects of another common additive: phthalates, a suspected reproductive toxin. The Hackensack Medical Center and the Mount Sinai Medical Center have recently completed construction projects that rely on significantly less PVC. In addition, Hackensack and Mount Sinai either have phased out or are in the process of phasing out PVC IV bags and tubing.
By minimizing the risks associated with exposure to toxic substances such as lead, Griff fails to paint a true picture of how these substances can affect public health. Griff rightly says that “lead stabilizers ... are rare in products made in North America and Europe.” However, many of the consumer products that we buy are not made in North America and Europe; a large number of them are made in South Asia and other parts of the world where lead, cadmium, phthalates, and other toxic substances are routinely incorporated into the PVC products that are shipped to the U.S.
Many companies are phasing out PVC in favor of plastics that have the properties they need without containing the toxic additives. These companies may have different reasons for eliminating or reducing the amount of PVC they use in their products, but each found compelling environmental and financial reasons to do so.
Cameron S. Lory