Healthy Building Network Is At It Again…

We recently learned that the Healthy Building Network (HBN), a group with a self-described mission to “phase-out PVC building products,” is developing a new subscription research program on the PVC supply chain, including chlorine and vinyl chloride monomer (VCM). Ironically -- some might say brazenly – HBN is seeking support from the PVC industry to fund it.

HBN has a long, undeniable history of distorting the facts on PVC.  We’ve documented them here, here, here, and here.  The group’s statements and baseless claims against our industry have revealed an extraordinary lack of factual understanding and credibility regarding important matters involving PVC.

Take, for example, HBN’s emphasis on global chlor-alkali processes, some of which around the world use asbestos and mercury during production. These processes are heavily regulated and have been proven safe.  But HBN has falsely claimed our industry is responsible for the majority of asbestos use in the United States. That, however, is not true, as some 80 percent of chlor-alkali production is used in a wide array of non-PVC products – including pharmaceuticals, water treatment, food additives, and other building material products.  In fact, the major use of asbestos today on a global basis is cement-asbestos board building materials and large diameter concrete drainage and sewer pipe.  In the United States, the use of asbestos in these materials has been discontinued decades ago, while other parts of the world still allow it. 

Despite these facts, HBN continues to advance inaccurate information in the discourse about our industry. We’ve corrected them before, yet they repeatedly deceive the public. Which raises a rather obvious question in the context of the group’s current research endeavor: If HBN truly cares about “accelerating the sun-setting of some high hazard substances,” as it has stated, why is it exclusively fixated on PVC? And what does that say about the group’s ability to be remotely independent about the way they collect, curate and present their findings on PVC?

What it tells us is that HBN has little interest in advancing the facts, and may be motivated more by establishing ways to profit off its anti-PVC campaigns – something we’ve exposed before here on VinylVerified.  

It should surprise no one that under HBN’s proposed subscriber agreement, participating organizations would provide information to the group to use as HBN sees fit.  This means that information volunteered as part of a good faith effort to build a better business could be used to further HBN’s ideological agenda – one openly hostile to the continued use of PVC products.

We should also point out that the data HBN seeks to collect, and have our industry finance, already exists.  IHS Markit, an independent, third-party organization with no ulterior or hidden agenda, conducts global assessments of the PVC resin, vinyl chloride monomers, and chlor-alkali industry.  And IHS Markit provides companies with unbiased data, contrary to what HBN would likely deliver.

Make no mistake: This purported olive branch by HBN is nothing more than an attempt to gain access and influence the decisions of our industry, and advance HBN’s broader mission to remove PVC from the marketplace. It is a common tactic used by many activist organizations.  It should be noted that HBN’s founder, Bill Walsh, is a Greenpeace alum – a group that has used many of the same maneuvers to achieve its ends, often at great expense to companies that choose to partner with them in good faith.

This isn’t about information. It’s about intimidation. HBN needs to prove that it is a responsible group committed to an open and transparent process that recognizes the industry’s achievements and focuses on continuous performance improvement, rather than eliminating  the PVC industry. This approach would help contributors be assured their money is being spent in good faith.

NYT’s Rabin Compromises Journalistic Integrity In “Click-bait” Clown Story on Phthalates

The goal of The New York Times is to cover the news as impartially as possible,” reads the NYT’s own Standards and Ethics policy for its reporters. “Few writers need to be reminded that we seek and publish a response from anyone criticized in our pages. But when the criticism is serious, we have a special obligation to describe the scope of the accusation and let the subject respond in detail.  No subject should be taken by surprise when the paper appears, or feel that there was no chance to respond.”  

NYT’s Roni Caryn Rabin could use a refresher course on her employer’s own journalism standards.  Because nowhere in her recent 1,350+ word abomination on phthalates [The Chemicals in Your Mac and Cheese] does she honor her duty-bound responsibility to provide readers any substantive countervailing viewpoints that would have provided critical perspective on this important issue.  What’s more, she bases her entire report on a non-peer-reviewed disgrace of a study concocted by a team of agenda-driven special interests – one that would have absolutely no chance of being published by any credible scientific publication.

We’ll be specific:

The study, which Ms. Rabin blindly promotes, falsely expects readers to accept that exposure to phthalates – at any level – is toxic to humans.  That’s important, because the study’s authors were unable to detect the presence of phthalates in the foods they examined when using the widely accepted, and scientifically proven, parts-per-million standard. That’s why they had to reset their scopes and apply a parts-per-billion threshold – a standard that is universally rejected for determining toxicity, as it is 1,000 times beyond what the vast scientific community uses to assess it.

But that wasn’t enough to stop Ms. Rabin from inciting mass hysteria – and enhancing her own profile, too, with a click-bait story hardly worthy of NYT-level exposure. Such conduct raises serious questions with respect to her journalistic integrity.

That’s the kindest explanation for Ms. Rabin’s actions. Because another possibility is that she might have knowingly played a part in advancing the hidden motives of the groups that commissioned the flawed research.  The organizations behind this study have been petitioning the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for years to de-authorize all phthalates from the marketplace.  But their efforts have stalled over the past five months, largely because their arguments lack any and all credibility.

The release of this baseless study is an obvious attempt to reinvigorate this campaign.  And what better way to gain the attention of policy makers than by scaring the public, with an assist from a friendly puppet at the NYT.

Ms. Rabin will no doubt defend her decision to cover this unverified, unsubstantiated study. But she can’t justify her decision to exclude any substantive response from industry or academia challenging the study’s conclusions.

Prior to publication, the Flexible Vinyl Alliance put Ms. Rabin in touch with William Carroll, Adjunct Professor of Chemistry at Indiana University, who spent over 30 years in the vinyl industry. Dr. Carroll spoke with Ms. Rabin at length, where he explained to her that exposure levels matter – and that extremely small exposure to phthalates are insignificant. But there’s no reference to this interview in her story.

(In fairness, Ms. Rabin’s article does indirectly cite an attorney who noted that phthalates are being phased out of foods.  It constitutes 37 words of her 1,372-word story.  A generous 2.6 percent of her entire article.)

Mr. Rabin denies readers any balance to the study’s claims – so they might decide, for themselves, whether the study could be trusted on the merits.  Instead, she gives a group of special interests an open microphone to push a set of distortions that even ninth grade chemistry students would find laughable.

We at Vinyl Verified are accustomed to confronting stories where reporters at least attempt to convey a modicum of objectivity when covering industry.  They typically bury a few corporate spokesperson quotes at the end, so they can check the box and claim industry’s side has been fairly represented.

But Ms. Rabin fails even that low expectation.

“It is imperative that The Times and its staff maintain the highest possible standards to ensure that we do nothing that might erode readers’ faith and confidence in our news columns,” the NYT’s Standards and Ethics reporter policy states. “This means that the journalism we practice daily must be beyond reproach.”  

This self-described commitment to upholding “the highest possible standards” compelled us to reach out to the paper’s Public Editor, Liz Spayd.  We wanted to point out Ms. Rabin’s indiscretions to the outlet’s internal police force – so that the paper would live up to its word, and hopefully take action and hold her publicly accountable.

But we discovered that Ms. Spayd was terminated last month, reportedly because others at the paper didn’t like her criticism of their coverage. And it seems the NYT has little interest in holding its reporters publicly accountable to its own standards anymore, because the paper announced that it has eliminated the Public Editor position altogether.

Without this last line of defense, it appears reporters like Ms. Rabin are now free and clear to erode reader confidence at will – and mislead them with impunity.

Columbia Researcher’s Careless Statement on Vinyl Flooring

We’ve come to expect irresponsible attacks on vinyl material – with no scientific basis whatsoever – by those driven by agenda, who callously perpetuate misleading characterizations in the discourse, in place of thoughtful, fact-based analysis.

But it’s a sad day when academic scientists, such as Columbia University’s Pam Factor-Litvak, join these ranks, and disregard their professional responsibilities by making speculative, unsupported and unscientific statements to consumers in promoting their research.

A recent study by Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health asserted a connection between phthalate exposure and childhood thyroid dysfunction and depression. In the press release touting the report’s findings, senior author Pam Factor-Litvak stated: “Parents with young children should avoid using products containing phthalates such as shampoos, nail polish, and vinyl flooring.” 

Ms. Factor-Litvak’s statement caught our attention, so we went through her study to review her analysis of vinyl flooring, so that we might better understand how she arrived at such a declarative conclusion about the material.

But it wasn’t there. In fact, her study contained no reference at all to vinyl flooring throughout the entire 18-page report. The only substantive reference to DINP, the most common phthalate in vinyl flooring, related to a singular review of DINP exposure from “foodstuffs” in Taiwanese children.

Now, unless people are ingesting vinyl flooring (which we don’t recommend), we’re puzzled how Ms. Factor-Litvak could make any correlation at all between this research and the safety of vinyl flooring. It made us wonder … Why would Ms. Factor-Litvak advise consumers to categorically avoid vinyl flooring – nail polish and shampoo, too, for that matter – and offer no evidence regarding actual phthalate exposure levels (or lack thereof) for these products?

It’s a safe bet Ms. Factor-Litvak isn’t aware that the state of California – known for applying some of the strictest chemical regulations in the nation – concluded in 2016 that exposure to DINP from vinyl flooring containing amounts below their determined “Safe Use” threshold poses no significant health risk to homeowners.   

California arrived at this “Safe Use” determination because scientists took the time to review the material. They conducted the research. They performed the requisite analysis. And they backed up their conclusions. With actual data. 

Yet, despite this, the vinyl industry has elected to move away from some types of phthalates due to consumer/customer concerns driven in large measure to agenda-driven statements advanced by some in the research community – who should know better. However, phthalates remain the plasticizer of choice in thousands of current vinyl applications, because they are safe, cost effective and functional.

Consumers should be allowed to make sound, informed decisions about the products they use that are safe and effective and add tremendous convenience to their everyday lives. And scientists certainly don’t have the right to influence those decisions by making baseless statements that incite public fear, with no supporting facts to back their claims.

We can only surmise that Ms. Factor-Litvak chose to vilify nail polish, shampoo, and vinyl flooring out of the blue, simply to promote awareness of her study, and make the subject of her complex report (i.e. phthalates) seem more relatable to the average reader. 

Ms. Factor-Litvak would be better served if she did a more thorough investigation of all resources prior to publishing and promoting a flawed research treatise.

CONGRESS: SAVE TAXPAYERS MONEY BY PROTECTING OPEN COMPETITION

BY RICHARD DOYLE, OPINION CONTRIBUTOR - 06/30/17 04:30 PM EDT

Infrastructure will soon take center stage on Capitol Hill. And lawmakers will begin to earmark funding for states to replace our nation’s aging and deteriorating iron pipe system, to ensure the delivery of safe drinking water for the next 100 years, or more.

Fortunately, advancements in water piping technology have occurred in recent decades – and only one replacement material, PVC pipe, has been reliably proven, after peer review, to last more than a century. But unless Congress takes action to enact a national bidding process, taxpayers all across the country will continue to subsidize the ductile iron pipe industry by allowing some states to block PVC pipe from consideration.

Why? Because the Ductile Iron Pipe Research Association (DIPRA) has been campaigning hard to pressure states to protect the current restriction on PVC pipe as a possible material choice, and close bidding to competing materials that could threaten the iron pipe industry’s monopoly. DIPRA has unleashed a multi-state lobbying effort in hopes of excluding PVC pipe, out of fear PVC pipe will continue to disrupt iron pipe’s monopoly over the marketplace.

Read full article here: http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/economy-budget/340260-congress-save-taxpayers-money-by-protecting-open

DIPRA is Having a Hard Time Separating Fact from Fiction

The Ductile Iron Pipe Research Association—DIPRA—makes a lot of its self-professed commitment to the truth. In a post entitled “Fact or Fiction: Trust Your Experience” DIPRA pledges to be “forthright and factual,” in presenting empirical evidence, and promises they “will not spread half-truths or mischaracterizations about substitute materials.”

Unfortunately, DIPRA’s actions don’t match their rhetoric. In their continued war on PVC, DIPRA and its representatives rely heavily on claims made in a discredited academic study that’s notable only for its misattribution and inaccuracy. Worse, they ignore the pleas of scientists demanding they correct the record.

Some background: A 2016 DIPRA funded study at the University of Michigan titled “A Framework to Evaluate the Life Cycle Costs and Environmental Impacts of Water Pipelines” stated that the life cycle of PVC pipe was 41 to 60 years, citing an earlier study done at Utah State University by Steven Folkman. The only problem is that Mr. Folkman made no such statement in his 2012 report, “Water Main Break Rates in the USA and Canada: A Comprehensive Study, April 2012.” In a letter written to the authors of the DIPRA-UMI study Mr. Folkman writes:

“[Your study] references a paper I did in 2012 on ‘Water Main Break Rates in the USA and Canada’ and claim[s] that I stated that the expected life of PVC pipe is 41-60 years. There is no such statement in that paper. …”

Dr. Folkman’s letter also points out that the DIPRA-UMI report also ignores a plethora of studies showing PVC pipe’s life expectancy to be longer than 100 years:

“The paper titled ‘Validation of the Long Life of PVC Pipes’ documents testing done at Utah State University and also reviews papers from 15 other authors from around the world. They all conclude that a properly design and installed PVC pipe will have an expected life in excess of 100 years.”

Study after study confirms Folkman’s actual conclusion. PVC pipe is a safe, durable solution for water system management. An organization committed to being forthright and factual about the marketplace would listen to Folkman and correct the record. But DIPRA seems unwilling to live up to its purported ideals. So unwilling, in fact, that despite Mr. Folkman’s best efforts to get them to correct the record, they continue to cite the UMI paper that rests on claims he never made.  DIPRA referenced it recently, in its “Fact or Fiction” post, that laughably commits to using research that was “fair and factual,” and avoids “half-truths” and “mischaracterizations.”

DIPRA’s failure to correct the record is both dishonest and irresponsible. It’s important that communities have all the information necessary to make informed decisions about critical water infrastructure. Clean, clear water is something that millions of Americans take for granted, and that should always be the case. DIPRA’s misinformation campaign only further complicates what is often a difficult process. An organization that claims to be committed to separating “fact from fiction” for the public good should know better.

Unmasking the Iron Pipe Lobby’s False Narrative

One of the cornerstones of a free economy is open competition. Rival products mean more choices and ultimately lower costs for consumers. This is no less important—and arguably more so—when you’re spending other people’s money. 

So when it comes to the $1 trillion in taxpayer dollars President Trump is likely to request for infrastructure investments, aren’t the American people owed healthy, open competition?

A number of recent articles appearing in niche, “Beltway” publications have openly advocated for closed procurement processes. A recent one appeared in the Washington Examiner, an opinion piece by Darren Bearson, who argues that Republicans in Congress should eschew PVC pipe from consideration all together, and select ductile iron pipe by default.

These pieces are cynical attempts to mislead policymakers into abandoning sound science and good governance in order to prop up the iron pipe industry’s dwindling market share in the water sector.

Enough is enough.

Darren Bearson Deceives Readers