Questions Surround Healthy Building Network’s Motives In Latest Anti-PVC Report

Questions Surround Healthy Building Network’s Motives In Latest Anti-PVC Report

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[1], 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%[2] 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?


[1] IHS Markit Chlorine and Caustic Soda Demand, World: 2016.

[2] 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%.

Correcting DIPRA’s Fantasy World

DIPRA’s latest ad is riddled with inaccuracies and misleading statements about ductile iron and PVC pipe. We highlight the facts:

Vox Misleads

Vox recently published an irresponsible story misleading readers to believe plastic food containers contain phthalates that are “leaching" into the food we eat. There’s just one problem: The use of ortho-phthalates in U.S. food packaging is approaching zero percent And this industry trend has occurred despite the fact the FDA regulations approve the use of phthalates in food packaging. Vox, has chosen to ignores these facts since they fail to advance the story’s apparent predetermined anti-chemistry viewpoint. For an accurate look at the safety of food packaging, click here.

Two-Faced Claims By The Iron Pipe Industry

Two-Faced Claims By The Iron Pipe Industry

Lobby groups that hypocritically condemn the conduct of competing industries should spend a little time in front of the mirror before casting their aspersions.

The Ductile Iron Pipe Research Association (DIPRA) reignited its long running disinformation campaign against PVC pipe in recent weeks. Patrick Hogan, DIPRA’s president, wrote this op-ed replete with inaccuracies and misleading assertions about our material.  But among his statements, he insinuates that the views of certain experts who have been outspoken in advancing the facts about PVC pipe shouldn’t be trusted because they’ve received financial support, he alleges, from the PVC industry.

CheatSheet Spreads False, Fear Mongering Clickbait

It looks like Julia Mullaney at CheatSheet may have been doing a bit of cheating herself, by publishing a story containing the similar distortions about vinyl perpetuated by Reader’s Digest just a few months ago, a story we previously confronted.  

Ms. Mullaney dismisses basic science and misleads readers on a wide range of vinyl products. We’ll focus specifically on her false claims regarding vinyl and PVC to set the record straight:

Forcing Taxpayers To Pay More For Inferior Water Pipes? It’s a Losing Proposition

Forcing Taxpayers To Pay More For Inferior Water Pipes? It’s a Losing Proposition

The infrastructure debate is about to take center stage in Congress – where the issue of spending federal funds to replace deteriorating state water pipe systems will soon come into focus. But if the iron pipe lobby has its way, cities will be forced to use ductile iron pipe for these federally-funded projects, despite competing materials that exist which are less expensive and last twice as long

Surprise! Post Sponsored by Wood Siding Manufacturer on BobVila.com Distorts the Truth about Vinyl Siding

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Engineered wood siding company LP Outdoor Building Products (LP) has sponsored an article on BobVila.com that unsurprisingly contains a number of distortions and misleading claims about vinyl siding. To add to the brazenness and clear bias of the piece, the site features a banner ad prominently above the piece promoting LP’s products, as you can see in the screenshot above.

Before we dive into the number of glaringly erroneous claims about vinyl siding contained in this piece, we should point out that the article ends with a disclaimer stating that the post was sponsored by LP. Of course, this disclaimer is code for, “We’re being paid to shamelessly promote LP’s distortions about vinyl siding, but we want to give you the (mis)impression that these are our own opinions.”  

The piece absurdly claims that vinyl siding doesn’t meet the standards for wood siding developed by LP – the wood siding manufacturer that sponsored the article. Of course, the article omits the fact that vinyl siding meets or exceeds stringent standards set by an independent, third party standards-development organization (ASTM International). And LP ignores that vinyl siding is subject to an independently-administrated third-party certification program to ensure adherence to those standards. 

This next claim rests on the false assumption that using a grill near a structure like a shed is a good idea. But unlike vinyl siding, engineered wood siding is prone to ignition at relatively low temperatures. A grill close enough to a building to melt vinyl siding runs the risk of charring or igniting engineered wood siding at the same distance. Additionally, wood siding requires paint, which would bubble up or darken when exposed to the same high temperatures required to thermally distort vinyl siding. And while there have been cases of concentrated reflected sunlight igniting wood building materials, there have been no such cases involving vinyl siding.

Both vinyl siding and engineered wood siding, like any building product, must be properly installed in order to realize their potential performance. And both products are vulnerable to installation mistakes. But even this article admits that the installation of vinyl siding is more straightforward than engineered wood siding, which means it is more likely to be installed properly.

Of course, LP – the real author of this sponsored post – fails to mention any steps the wood siding manufacturer takes to ensure its product is properly installed. The vinyl siding industry, on the other hand, sponsors a third-party installer certification program and works with other agencies to facilitate training of vinyl siding installers – making it the ONLY cladding backed up by both a third-party product certification program and a third-party installer certification program.

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As you would expect from a sponsored post, the article paid ad gets this part completely wrong. Many vinyl siding manufacturers offer 16-foot lengths, just as LP offers 12-foot panel lengths and lower. Some companies have even produced lengths of vinyl siding up to 25 feet.

As if the shameless self-promotion wasn’t already apparent, LP attempts to sell the reader on LP’s installation services right after the article admits that vinyl siding is easier to install.

We would hope that even in a sponsored post, BobVila.com would have the sense to provide a balanced conversation on benefits of vinyl siding. And despite the disclaimer, it seems blatantly apparent to us that BobVila.com had very little to do with the composition of this piece, and were financially motivated to blindly traffic LP’s distortions and mislead its readers about vinyl siding.