Not long ago, representatives at Healthy Building Network (HBN) could say anything they pleased with complete impunity. No one stood up and held their writers publicly accountable on the accuracy of their statements, or exposed the potential hidden motives driving their activities.
And until now, readers of their work – architects, engineers and building professionals – have had no reason to question HBN’s dishonest positions against PVC, which the group has perpetuated for well over a decade.
Not anymore. HBN’s lies and distortions about PVC are exactly the reason why we created Vinyl Verified. To confront disinformation in the online discourse – and expose adversaries for who, or what, they really are.
HBN’s lies and distortions about PVC are exactly the reason why we created Vinyl Verified. To confront disinformation in the online discourse – and expose adversaries for who, or what, they really are.
HBN’s representatives desperately want the public to believe the group exists to right wrongs, and reveal dark truths about the chemical industry, as part of an honorable crusade to improve sustainability within the building industry.
But what many probably don’t know is that HBN’s operations resemble that of a business. A quick look at HBN’s website reveals the services it sells – ranging anywhere from business consulting, licensing and technology offerings, and speaking opportunities.
Just like any business, HBN had to find an untapped market and differentiate itself from its competition. The group’s founder, Bill Walsh – a Greenpeace veteran – described how HBN endeavored to distinguish itself back in 2005:
“Over time, the focus of our work at Greenpeace shifted from combating toxic waste to advocating for cleaner products and production. Because of the huge environmental impact of buildings and building materials, I thought the green-building movement deserved more attention than it was getting from the environmental community, so I started HBN as a way to meet that need.” HBN Founder Bill Walsh, Grist, 2.22.05.
Businesses often struggle during the early years, and Mr. Walsh knew he had to focus precious start-up energy and resources. So he followed the Greenpeace playbook and selected a single industry to attack, one with a reputation for delivering convenience, safety, life cycle responsibility and other benefits to improve consumer lives:
“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
To win clients, HBN had to convey the impression it had a specialized expertise. And thus began HBN’s decade-long distortion effort to mislead the public about PVC.
To win clients, HBN had to convey the impression it had a specialized expertise. And thus began HBN’s decade-long distortion effort to mislead the public about PVC. To build its brand, it started a website and published countless articles and reports containing factually inaccurate and misguided content about PVC – which the media would reflexively report without ever questioning the quality of its research orintegrity of its findings. And to enhance its credibility, it forged alliances with other for-profit organizations, such as the architect firm Perkins + Will, whose business model is built on disparaging durable, life-cycle-proven materials, such as PVC, to land clients – and turn a profit.
With its business network in place, a press corps willing to cover anything it says, and a hostile climate of misinformation surrounding PVC which it helped engineer, it was time to cash in. HBN would use all three to its advantage to sell its consulting services and deceive companies into believing PVC, among other materials, should be avoided.
Everyone has the right to his or her own viewpoint. And everyone has the right to earn a living, as long as it’s within the law. But those who mislead the public do not have the right to be taken seriously – and that’s especially true when representatives at HBN continue to intentionally conflate the facts to perpetuate misinformation about the topics they address.
Which brings us to HBN’s latest premise, written by Bill Walsh himself, that PVC is somehow singularly responsible for most chlorine production in the United States – and that asbestos is an essential component of the chlorine production process. More HBN dishonesty. … But then again, irresponsible positions that distort reader impressions about our industry is what we’ve come to expect from them.
Let’s get into it:
The vinyl industry does not drive chlorine demand. The vinyl chain uses approximately 40% of all U.S. chlorine production. The remaining two-thirds are used in applications that have nothing to do with PVC. HBN routinely misrepresents this, and wants observers to think it’s far more than that. But these facts are indisputable.
PVC resin production uses only ~ 20 percent of the yield from U.S. chlor-alkali production. Which means that the other 80 percent is used in a host of other products, such as pulp and paper, food additives, pharmaceuticals, textiles, metals processing, water treatment and other applications. HBN won’t tell you this.
Asbestos is NOT an essential component of all chlorine production. HBN conceals from readers that there are two chlorine manufacturing methods. One method, which a growing number of companies are utilizing today, requires no asbestos whatsoever. Of course, we never hear this from Mr. Walsheither … And we likely never will, because it’s another inconvenient fact that doesn’t comply with its one-track mindset against our industry.
PVC manufacturers did NOT argue that asbestos should not be regulated under the 2016 Toxic Substances Contract Act. The Vinyl Institute has never made any such argument or proposal.
We’ll say it again: PVC does NOT rely on mercury cell chlorine technology: There is only one chlorine plant in the U.S. that uses this technology (not two as HBN asserts). And this plant accounts for less than 1% of all U.S. chlorine capacity. More importantly, U.S. producers of vinyl chloride monomer do not rely on this facility – or any international facility for that matter – to meet their needs.
FACT: China transitioned from mercury cell chlorine technology 15 years ago. And while mercury containing catalysts are still used for the conversion of acetylene to vinyl chloride, China has agreed to cut its use in half by 2020 in compliance with the UN Minamata Convention Requirements. These are additional facts HBN likes to hide because they don’t fit the group’s anti-PVC narrative.
Mr. Walsh hasn’t done his research on trona. The notion that caustic can be made from the mineral trona, as proposed by Mr. Walsh, is clearly not based on any life cycle, health, or environmental study. According to a 2013 Wyoming Public Radio report, trona mines are among the biggest emitters of volatile organic hydrocarbons (VOCs), hazardous air pollutants (HAPs), and nitrogen oxides (NOx) in the state. In fact, as much as 1% of these mines’ exhaust is methane that is ventilated in order to make the work environment in the mine safer for the miners. Methane is a powerful green-house gas, and is an unregulated and un-inventoried emission from the trona mining operation according to the Wyoming DEQ.
FACT: PVC products improve building sustainability. Building products made with PVC are selected because they provide safe, long lasting, and affordable solutions for enhancing a building’s sustainability footprint. The sustainable attributes of vinyl building products have been proven by many life cycle assessment analyses. And PVC materials often have a lower carbon footprint and are less energy intensive than many competing materials.
Notwithstanding HBN’s financial motives, the group has taken issue with our public characterization that the group has an anti-PVC agenda. Yet Mr. Walsh appears to have made that case on his own:
“I’ve got this collection of voodoo dolls representing the flacks from the Vinyl Institute … Each day, after reading their latest press release on the (sic) PR Newswire, I adjust the pins."
Does that sound like anyone committed to advancing the facts and promoting the truth about PVC?