If you smell something, say something. That seems to be the new motto for the agenda-driven fundraising outfit Environmental Working Group (EWG). When they’re not busy launching fear-mongering publicity stunts or promoting their baseless “EWG Verified” seal of approval, they go where their nose takes them. Smell something? Then stay away…it must be toxic! Seems like a good enough reason to call on the EPA to investigate.
As part of their “20 Toxic Chemicals the EPA should act on now” release—timed to raise money around EPA’s upcoming announcement of top priority chemicals to review under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)—EWG lists vinyl chloride.
Why? Because some products that use vinyl chloride during production smell funny.
No, really. EWG warns that vinyl chloride is “a source of the distinctive ‘new car smell.’” They say the same of shower curtains. Do new cars and new shower curtains have a distinct smell? Of course. But is vinyl chloride the cause?
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) states, “vinyl chloride has a mild, sweet odor, which may become noticeable at 3,000 parts vinyl chloride per million parts (ppm) of air.” To put that in context, 3,000 ppm is an extremely high concentration –considering that regulations prevent worker exposure over 1 ppm.
So unless you have a better sense of smell than any other human being, it’s probably not vinyl. Not much vinyl is used in shower curtains, but you can be assured that the vinyl chloride was removed during the PVC manufacturing process before the vinyl was used to make a shower curtain.”
If the researchers over at EWG used more than their noses, this would have been easy to figure out. Instead, they call on EPA to undertake a risk assessment for vinyl chloride. But vinyl chloride was one of the first chemicals listed on the initial TSCA priority list in 1976, and has been studied for over 40 years. Why does it need a new risk assessment? There is ample research, the same research used to enact strict limitations for workplace exposure by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in 1974, and to set EPA limits on emissions and allowable levels of residual vinyl chloride in PVC resins. Along with decades of industry innovation, the safety of vinyl chloride has continuously improved.
EWG further warns that “The CDC has found it in about 60 percent of Americans tested.” But where does this statistic come from? No source is included in any of the release’s 28 footnotes. ATSDR, which is under the umbrella of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states in their ToxGuide that there is currently no evidence “regarding distribution of vinyl chloride in humans.” So where did the mysterious CDC number come from? If such data does exist, how were these individuals tested for exposure, and what was the source of the exposure? For instance, exposure can come from smoking cigarettes or cigars— which have nothing to do with PVC plastic. ATSDR says that only a blood test administered within a few hours after exposure can yield definitive results. Were such tests used?
We realize that groups like EWG want to add their two cents to policy debates so they can make two bucks in fundraising. But the actual scientists and policymakers who will determine the next ten high priority chemicals for testing should continue to rely on the 2014 TSCA Chemical Work Plan, as the EPA has planned on doing all along.
That sure beats the smell test.