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What is PVC?
PVC (polyvinyl chloride) is also known as vinyl. PVC is the second most common plastic, but is the least recycled of all common plastics. Some products made from PVC are marked with the number three inside the recycling symbol (see below). Others may be marked with a “V” for vinyl, or “PVC” (although some products are not marked at all).

PVC is Toxic
There are two main reasons why PVC is a toxic plastic that causes damage to our health and environment. When manufactured, disposed of, or subjected to high heat, the chlorine in PVC can chemically combine with organic materials, producing deadly byproducts known as dioxins. Secondly, the additives used in PVC plastic products can also be toxic.

PVC Problem #1: Dioxins
Dioxins belong to a class of 75 chemicals with similar properties; the most toxic is 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD). Dioxins are known to cause cancer, immune suppression, and birth defects in animals. They can act as endocrine disruptors, which means that they have the ability to mimic or block hormones in the body. In the early 1990s, the Endometriosis Association found that 79% of a group of monkeys developed endometriosis after being exposed to TCDD dioxin in food during a research study. The severity of endometriosis found in the monkeys was directly related to the amount of TCDD to which they had been exposed. In addition, the dioxin-exposed monkeys showed immune abnormalities similar to those observed in women with endo.

The main sources of dioxins are municipal waste incineration, metal smelting, medical waste incineration, chemical and plastic manufacturing, and pulp/paper bleaching. Dioxins can travel long distances in the atmosphere via air currents. Rain, snow and dust carry it to the ground, and it eventually enters the food chain when animals, such as cattle, graze on the dioxin-contaminated crops.According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, over 90% of our exposure to dioxins is through food, with major sources including beef, dairy products, milk, chicken, pork, fish and eggs. Dioxins are also passed from mother to developing infant across the placenta and through breastfeeding.

Dioxins and related compounds are highly persistent in the environment and in living organisms. It is believed that almost all living beings on earth have dioxin-like compounds in their body tissue. No amount of dioxin exposure can be considered safe, as very small amounts have been associated with impaired development, reproduction, neurological, and immune function. The EPA’s most recent report concluded that the cancer risk to the general population from dioxin is now as high as one in one hundred people. Dioxin is one of the most toxic chemicals known to humankind.

PVC is toxic at every stage of its lifecycle. When manufactured or burned, dioxin is created. Dioxin is known to disrupt the hormonal and immune systems.

PVC Problem #2:
PVC requires the use of more chemical additives than any other common plastic. PVC products always contain additives because, by itself, PVC is a very rigid, non-flexible material. To make PVC soft and flexible (for IV bags or gloves, for example) additives such as phthalates (pronounced “thal-ates”) are used. However, because they are not chemically bonded to the PVC itself, they can run off or leach from the PVC plastic. One of the widely used phthalates in PVC products is di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), a toxic chemical that has been associated with damage to the heart, liver, ovaries, testes, lungs and kidneys. DEHP in medical equipment like IV (intravenous) bags is especially concerning due to the possible leaching of DEHP into the body. Women with endometriosis may fall into a higher-risk category for DEHP exposure because they often undergo numerous medical procedures during their reproductive years. Phthalates in children’s toys, such as teethers, can leach into their mouths. The European Union has lead the way by banning phthalates in soft toys for children under the age of three.

Another example of exposure to phthalates and harmful plasticizers is through food wrapped in PVC cling wrap. Many meats, cheeses and other foods sold in delis and grocery stores are wrapped in PVC. Scientists have found evidence of toxic additives migrating into the food.

In addition to phthalates, other harmful additives like nonyl phenol, organotins, cadmium, and lead are often used in PVC. Many of these additives, such as nonyl phenol, disrupt hormonal systems. Lead is known to cause brain and nervous system damage, convulsions, coma, fatigue, mental retardation, hyperactivity, and reproductive problems.

What you can do to protect your health and the environment

  • Do not buy PVC/vinyl products.
  • Do an evaluation of your home and replace PVC products (see below), especially those that come into contact with food, with safer materials such as glass, ceramic, and stainless steel.
  • Avoid the use of PVC/vinyl construction products (i.e. pipes or floors) when building or remodeling your home.
  • Contact the manufacturers of your favorite products that are packaged in PVC and ask them to use less toxic packaging (plastic #1 and #2 are safer).
  • Request the use of PVC-free products for medical procedures such as surgeries.
  • Contact your local hospital or medical facility, speak with the purchasing department or facility manager, and ask them to phase-out PVC medical supplies. Request that they replace PVC with safer, alternative materials.
  • Find a comprehensive list of alternatives at www.aaa.dk/pvc.
  • Write a letter to the government agency that regulates the safety of medical products in your country.
  • Keep in mind that most of our personal exposure to dioxin comes through animal fats such as beef, cheese, eggs, etc. Eat low-fat meat and dairy products, preferably certified organic.
These Items may contain PVC
  • Pipes for plumbing
  • Plastic food containers
  • Intravenous (IV) bags and tubing
  • Surgical gloves
  • Oxygen masks
  • Siding for buildings
  • Automobile interiors
  • Shower curtains
  • Window frames
  • Plastic “cling” wrap
  • Office supplies
  • Toys
  • Shoes
  • Clothing
  • Wiring
  • Flooring
  • Wall covering
  • Upholstery
  • Garden hose
  • Credit cards
  • Packaging
  • Tablecloths
  • Purses


PVC and Me Campaign
Now that we know that PVC is harmful to our health and the environment, it is time to take action to eliminate it from our lives.

Fortunately, for almost all of the products currently made of PVC, safer alternatives are available.

The Endometriosis Association, with the generous support of the Beldon Fund, has launched a three-year campaign to educate purchasing agents and hospital officials about the hazards associated with PVC plastic in medical devices.

Join us and help make a difference! If you would like information about requesting a PVC free surgery, or writing to companies or the government, contact the
Environmental Coordinator at support@endometriosisassn.org.
Endometriosis Association
8585 N. 76th Place
Milwaukee, WI 53223 USA
phone 414.355.2200
fax 414.355.6065
©2005 Endometriosis Association
All rights reserved.