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Sierra's January/February 2003 Let's Talk book and film selections Book:The Great Unraveling: Losing Our Way in the New Century Film:Blue Vinyl: A Toxic Comedy
Comments we've received
When: December 19, 2003 Where: Prescott, Arizona Who: 8 friends of Doris Cellarius What: Blue Vinyl
What did you like about the film or book?
One would assume this group of people with social and environmental
concerns would not be overly shocked by the story, but they were quite
surprised and moved by the information. The first comment was - "Wow -
Things must be even worse now, with all Bush is doing." No one remarked
that Blue Vinyl was funny, but we did discuss how hopeful it was that
Judith was able to gently win her parents over to her side.
What were some highlights from your conversation?
There were comments about how we are surrounded by vinyl.
They pointed at the floor - what's it made of? Probably vinyl tile. It
was compared to asbestos...but worse, since it is in so many things. I had
to remind them that the vinyl products are not as dangerous to consumers
(unless they burn) as they are dangerous to those who manufacture them and
dispose of them.
The next comment was "What chemical is next? What else do we use that is
bad for the environment? The discussion moved to "what other threats do
we have in our town?". No one had heard of the Local Emergency Planning
Committee (LEPC) where, because of the Community Right-to-Know law, all
businesses that use certain amounts of toxics must report them.
At that moment, thinking of the LEPC, it occurred to me that most of
the people I see at LEPC meetings are firemen, whose lives are endangered
by fumes from burning plastic. I plan to talk with the LEPC about
encouraging the community to promote the use of alternatives to vinyl.
We talked a lot about alternative building materials because several
of the men are in construction - good jobs in a town that is sprawling
with new developments. There were more questions than answers. How to
make them affordable? How to make the vinyl manufacturer pay the costs
to health and the environment? Who could you boycott, when it is
From: Doris Cellarius email: Doris@Cellarius.net
(Doris Cellarius is co-chair of the Sierra Club's Environmental Quality Strategy Team. The following is the fact sheet she handed out at her Prescott discussion.)
PVC is a problem material because it contains a lot of chlorine - (something
like 48-50%) since vinyl is actually vinyl chloride made into a
polymer. Vinyl chloride is a carcinogen that threatens workers who
produce PVC. Second, in building fires, combustion of PVC create dioxins
and furans, as well as huge amounts of toxic acid gas--HCl or hydrochloric
acid. That's [HCl] which kills more people in fires in hotels and
restaurants more than the CO or the smoke particles or dioxins when they do
the autopsies and find the pathological evidence of HCl's severe damage to
the respiratory system and the evidence that the victims bled to death due
to severe HCl damage. PVC is everywhere and is commonly used in carpets,
drapery, furniture, computers, and in insulating copper wires, etc. Probably
tons of PVC were used in the World Trade Center buildings.
Chlorine is a necessary component for dioxins formation, whether in a
manufacturing or a combustion process. Many of the dioxins-release sources
on the EPA's national dioxins inventory are associated with chlorinated
chemical manufacture. The United States has signed an international treaty,
the Stockholm Convention, (the POPs Treaty) calling for the phaseout of this
and other persistent pollutants.
About 42% of chlorine used in the U.S. is used for manufacture of PVC.
About 5% of chlorine use is for bleaching pulp for paper products. About 23%
of chlorine use is for manufacture of inorganic chemicals (like table salt)
and for treating drinking water and waste water. These activities are
relatively unlikely to be associated with dioxins.
Many people are switching to natural building materials. Plastic
alternatives are somewhat better than PVC, if one intends to use plastic.
- Examples are polyethylene and polypropylene. Neither polyethylene nor
polypropylene contain any chlorine, so no worry about dioxins, furans or
HCl emissions during fires. Polyethylene and polypropylene are fine for
IV-tubing and IV-bags, and some hospitals have switched to them.
For information about how others are using this film to educate their
neighbors about pollution prevention, and sources of safer building
materials see the BLUE VINYL website.