(Dec. 10, 2007) — It's not new to see PVC makers and processors feeling like they're under attack. Activists, led by Greenpeace, have been fighting to ban the material for years.
The problems that we've seen recently with lead in toys have played into their hands. Regulators and the media start by looking at lead, then the activists bring up phthalates, too. Pretty soon, some consumers start to equate the two.
It remains to be seen if toy buyers this year will be avoiding products that are made in China, or products made of PVC, or neither, or both.
But one of the battlegrounds where the PVC sector finds itself this month has the potential to be a much bigger threat — and the fact that it came seemingly out of the blue is troubling. We're talking about the green building committee connected to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Program of the U.S. Green Building Council, which is trying to discourage contractors from using PVC in construction and major renovations of hospitals and other health-care buildings.
Think about it: This is a strike at two markets — construction and medical — that have key importance to PVC makers and that, until now, have been viewed as fairly safe from attack. If the committee succeeds in getting hospitals to stop using PVC in construction, you have to think that critics would use that decision to get them to stop using PVC inside hospitals, too.
In other words, how can you argue that PVC window profiles are unsafe, but IV blood bags are OK?
This obviously is a debate where well-meaning people may have a difference of opinion. But we can depend on the decision makers to be fair and willing to listen to all points of view, right?
It's troubling that the committee came out with its decision on Nov. 15, and allowed for only a 30-day comment period — and then declined to extend that deadline because it already has a meeting scheduled to review the comments.
Maybe the committee isn't in a rush to judgment, but it sure looks that way.
We hope the committee will reconsider and extend the comment period. As recently as February, USGBC's Technical and Scientific Advisory Committee rejected the concept of giving credits to builders that avoid PVC. What's changed since then?
And here's another important point — this decision does not just affect PVC. The proposal would give credits to builders that avoid halogenated substances and dioxins, so it's got the potential to impact manufacturers of some polyurethane products too, like furniture, as well as some flame retardants. There certainly are people who are going to be affected by this decision who haven't even heard about it, including some who could offer important information.
This is a debate that's gone on for years, and will probably continue for many more. Before decisions are made, the decision makers need to make sure they study the scientific evidence about PVC, and also about alternative materials. They don't just owe that to the vinyl industry — they owe it to the public.