The Healthy Building Network (HBN) rekindled its financially-driven distortion campaign against the vinyl industry recently in a one-sided, non-peer reviewed report riddled with inaccuracies and misstatements about PVC (vinyl). And as we’ve done so many times before, to ensure the public isn’t duped by HBN’s deceptions, we’ll take this opportunity to set the record straight.
The bottom line:
The Healthy Building Network hopes uninformed readers will blindly accept its incorrect claim that the vinyl industry is the primary driver of U.S. chlorine production.
We’ve corrected HBN on this point before. But the group insists on driving this false narrative – because HBN’s business division relies on the perpetuation of disparaging statements about our industry.
And it may run deeper than that. HBN’s repeated efforts to misstate PVC’s use of asbestos – while ignoring the global cement building material industry’s rampant consumption of it – raises other questions as to the potential motives driving HBN’s anti-PVC agenda.
No matter how many times HBN spreads misinformation about our industry, we’ll continue to use this forum to clarify the facts.
Let’s breakdown HBN’s inaccuracies:
We’re not sure HBN has a grasp of basic chemistry: HBN continues to risk its reputation by inaccurately asserting PVC is a primary driver of chlorine production when the facts simply don’t support it. Here’s why:
Chlorine is derived from sodium chloride, an abundant substance in the earth’s crust widely known as ordinary table salt.
During the processing of sodium chloride, both chlorine and another compound -- caustic soda – are produced in practically equal amounts. One cannot be produced without the other in the chlor-alkali process, and both have a wide variety of uses.
According to IHS Markit, vinyl uses a mere 16.5% of the total global output of this process, which means the vast majority of it – 83.5% -- is dedicated for non-vinyl purposes including important uses for pulp and paper processing, alumina and other metals treatment, petroleum refining, drinking water purification and waste treatment, pharmaceuticals, and other polymers just to name a few.
Using HBN’s own charts, the single largest use of chlorine in Europe is the isocyanates and oxygenates category, which eclipsed PVC use in 2015 for the first time. HBN ignores its own data and continues to mislead the public about PVC;
HBN makes no acknowledgement of the dominant role caustic soda demand plays to drive chlor-alkali production volumes.
HBN apparently opposes clean drinking water: HBN opposes chlorine production – which if eliminated, all of its vital uses would disappear, most notably the critical role it plays in purifying water by the municipal sources we drink to survive. Chlorine is essential to ensuring a safe water supply, and water purification is one of the primary uses of the compound throughout the United States. Yet HBN strangely remains fixated on its use in PVC. Sorry, HBN: You can’t oppose chlor-alkali production without rejecting all of the benefits we derive from it.
HBN apparently opposes certain life-saving drugs, too: Caustic soda, the co-product of chlor-alkali production, is required to make aspirin, widely used to prevent heart attacks. It’s also used in synthesis of anticoagulants to stop blood clots, and in creating cholesterol-lowering medicines. Many other pharmaceuticals use chlorine derivatives in their production as well. HBN’s opposition to chlor-alkali production demands a similar opposition to these life-saving therapies. Again, HBN cannot have it both ways.
Some HBN claims are just flat wrong. Take, for instance, HBN’s claim that a Texas PVC plant is dumping PVC pellets into the Gulf of Mexico. There’s just one problem: The plant they identify doesn’t make PVC pellets – and neither do any of the surrounding facilities in the area.
Other HBN claims conflate data and draw false conclusions. Here’s an example:
The U.S. EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory lists annual releases of emissions to air, water, and land by all facilities above a certain threshold. But HBN irresponsibly adds, averages, and normalizes those releases over a five year period in a deceptive effort to conflate the numbers.
Some U.S. chlor-vinyl facilities actually show decreases of reported emissions over a year-by-year comparison – but HBN hides this inconvenient fact that doesn’t help the group’s anti-PVC agenda.
HBN also lumps mercury cell and asbestos chlor-alkali capacity into one category, when mercury cell facilities are being replaced with newer technologies and are a small subset of global chlor-alkali capacity.
Similar to other emission conflations, HBN sums the emissions on a cumulative basis from the two remaining mercury cell plants to disguise the actual 82% reduction of emissions since 1987. That doesn’t just provide a disservice to readers – such methods are flat wrong and deceptive.
HBN continues to mislead readers on PVC and mercury. HBN claims there are a “substantial number” of facilities that use mercury cell technology. In fact, there are only two – and they represent merely one percent of all U.S. chlor-alkali capacity. U.S. vinyl chloride producers do not rely on chlorine produced from these facilities, contrary to HBN’s repeated efforts to mislead the public on this point.
HBN distorts the facts on PVC and asbestos, too: HBN wants readers to believe the PVC industry drives asbestos production – but the U.S. chlor-alkali industry consumed less than 0.03% of global asbestos production. Its fractional use is restricted to diaphragms that separate sodium from chlorine in the chlor-alkali electrolysis cell. And plants that still use this technology are heavily regulated and conform to strict U.S. Environmental Protection (EPA) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards. Given these facts, it is ludicrous to assert, as HBN does, that a mine in Brazil is being reopened to supply U.S. chlor-alkali needs. It’s just not true.
If HBN is concerned about asbestos production, why does it conspicuously avoid mentioning cement building products – the single largest user of asbestos? These products, which include cement asbestos siding, roofing tiles and cement pipe, are the largest users of asbestos, primarily in third world developing countries. So why does HBN single out the PVC industry for using only 0.03% of it? If asbestos is such a concern to HBN, why does HBN carefully sidestep any reference whatsoever to its single largest consumer?
We already know HBN runs a business practice that drives its anti-PVC agenda. We’ve touched on this before: HBN operates an anti-PVC division and advises commercial clients on using non-PVC materials. The business model is pretty simple: Flood the online space with disinformation about PVC, and then seek to profit from it by selling services to businesses and organizations on ways to avoid it.
Missing, of course, from HBN’s report … is the record of significant health, safety, and environmental improvements made not just in the chlor-alkali industry, but also by downstream consumers. Over the past two decades, industry emissions of vinyl chloride have been reduced by 84% while production volumes have increased 99%. Much of these improvements have been driven by innovations in product and processing technologies by vinyl resin producers.
But we’re not expecting HBN to deliver the facts about PVC to readers anytime soon. HBN’s anti-PVC agenda has deep, entrenched roots. And all one has to do is read this quote attributed HBN’s Founder, former Greenpeace employee and activist Bill Walsh, way back in 2005 to understand the bias that has driven the group’s financially-driven claims against PVC: “Right now, stopping the use of polyvinyl chloride plastic, also known as PVC or vinyl, is our top priority. We use a variety of strategies, from technical consultations to grassroots activism, to convince consumers, especially those with major commercial interests, to alter their purchasing habits.” – HBN Founder Bill Walsh, Grist, 2.22.05
Need we say more?
 IHS Markit Chlorine and Caustic Soda Demand, World: 2016.
 According to HBN’s own statement, U.S. chlor-alkali producers consume on average 480 tons per year asbestos (see p. 40). Global asbestos consumption in 2016 was estimated at 1,497,943 tons (see p. 5 in “The Fall of the Asbestos Empire” by Laurie Kazen-Allen Sept. 17, 2017 @ http://ibasecretariat.org/lka-the-fall-of-the-asbestos-empire.php). The calculation is then 480/1497943 = 0.00032 which is 0.03%.