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.



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

HBN’s Latest Publicity Stunt Misleads Readers on PVC

The Healthy Building Network (HBN) has long tried to deceive the public about vinyl material. Over the years, the group has developed this rather odd, peculiar obsession with PVC.

Since our inception here at Vinyl Verified, we’ve had to correct a number of inaccuracies HBN has perpetuated about PVC, here, here and here.

So it didn’t come as any surprise to us that HBN’s founder, Bill Walsh, would invent another narrative against PVC to advance the group’s long running disinformation campaign against the vinyl industry. 

But what made us shake our heads is just how weak and bizarre HBN’s arguments have become.

This time, HBN issued a new “report” that seeks to incite groundless hysteria by making the absurd claim that vinyl building products are singularly responsible for “driving” asbestos use in the U.S., since asbestos diaphragms are used in some chlor-alkali facilities to produce chlorine.

EDITOR’S NOTE: To be clear, this wasn’t a report at all – HBN simply worked with a few other groups to submit comments to the EPA on another regulatory issue. HBN is now dramatizing its comments to the media in hopes it will profit from any resulting publicity.

But HBN deliberately ignores one indisputable fact: Many major industries, such as metals processing, pulp and paper, water treatment, soaps and others, including vinyl, use chlori-alkali derived products.  

In fact, the vinyl chain only uses an estimated 20 percent of the overall output of all U.S. chlor-alkali production.[1] HBN can produce no evidence to contradict this – because it doesn’t exist.

We’ve corrected HBN on this point before,[2] but it’s hard to understand how 20% consumption of the output of any process would be considered as driving demand. So they hide it from readers, and promote demonstrable falsehoods, hoping no one will call them out on it.

We have also pointed out to HBN that chlorine has hundreds of life enhancing uses in addition to vinyl[3].

The math isn’t complicated, but we’ll spell it out (again):  80 percent of chlor-alkali production is used to support a wide array of non-PVC products – including pharmaceuticals, water treatment, food additives and other building material products.[4] This includes aluminum processing, ore flotation for metals production, wood pulp processing, rubber additives, textiles, and many plastics.

All of this begs an important question: If HBN truly cares about curbing the use of asbestos, why is it fixated on PVC when 80% of chlor-alkali output is being used for NON- PVC products and materials?

Of course, nowhere does Mr. Walsh reference the fact that asbestos use by the chlor-alkali industry is diminishing. According to USGS, it averaged 734,000 pounds over the last three years – down from the five-year average of 924,000 pounds.[5]

And HBN conveniently omits the fact that asbestos is not an ingredient in any PVC products, and hasn’t been added to any flooring products since the 1980s. But we’ll take the initiative to clarify that point here. 

Likewise, HBN promotes the dishonest assertion that asbestos miners in Minaçu, Brazil “prop up” the U.S. chemical and PVC industry.  USGS data unequivocally shows that exports to the U.S. represent only 0.1 percent of this mine’s entire production.[6]

Which means U.S. manufacturers could cease all imports from this facility, and over 99.9 percent of this mine’s production would remain intact.

And there’s this: Brazil accounts for nearly 15 percent of global asbestos production.[7] So if HBN is so deeply concerned about the welfare of Brazilian asbestos miners, as Mr. Walsh would have us believe, why does HBN make no mention of other global industries that receive nearly all of the Minaçu mine’s asbestos production?

Perhaps the answer is because the group’s entire business model has been built on distorting and conflating facts to disparage the U.S. vinyl industry.

Spreading falsehoods about our industry has “propped up” HBN’s visibility with a receptive and collaborative press – that has systematically failed to challenge any of HBN’s claims against the vinyl industry.

HBN has turned this free promotion into a profitable enterprise, by selling consulting services to like-minded companies and organizations.

This hidden agenda – HBN’s own financial motivations – must never be overlooked when evaluating the integrity of this organization, and the validity of its positions against PVC.

And we will continue to expose it, as long as HBN persists in distorting the facts about our industry.

The PVC Pipe Association and Vinyl Institute Statement regarding the I-85 Bridge Collapse

WASHINGTON, DC – March 31, 2017 -- The PVC Pipe Association (PVCPA) and Vinyl Institute (VI) are committed to making sure the facts surrounding the cause of the I-85 bridge collapse in Atlanta, GA prevail. Fortunately, there were no injuries and we are thankful that the responders to the scene kept themselves and the citizens of Atlanta safe.

There are many questions that have yet to be answered. But here is what we do know:

In a press conference, Russell McMurray, the Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner, said the cause of the fire at this time is not known, but coils of high density plastic telecommunications conduit were stored beneath the bridge. This is a different material than PVC piping. PVC is very rigid and is not used in coils of high density telecommunications conduit.

PVC pipe is a stable material with low combustibility. It is difficult to ignite. And the type of thick smoke seen emanating from the I-85 bridge indicates a combination of combustible materials.

Commissioner McMurray also noted PVC pipe’s low combustibility in a statement issued earlier this morning. And the science confirms it.

Numerous studies over the years have affirmed this fact. For example, an upcoming paper in Fire and Materials Magazine by Dr. Marcelo Hirschler, a fire safety expert with GBH International, examines the fire safety of PVC and states that “PVC materials are among the least easily ignitable polymers.”

It’s important the investigation be allowed to run its course, where all of the facts are thoroughly examined, before any rush to judgment is made as to the potential source of this event.

And PVC Pipe Association and the Vinyl Institute will continue do their parts to ensure accurate information about PVC material exists in the public discourse moving forward.

About the PVC Pipe Association
Founded in 1971 as a non-profit organization, the PVC Pipe Association is the authoritative source of information on PVC pipe. It serves the engineering, regulatory, public health and standardization communities. Introduced in North America in 1951, corrosion-proof PVC piping offers a superior, proven and truly sustainable solution for underground infrastructure, helping municipalities spend smarter and giving taxpayers the best return on their dollar. For more information, visit: http://www.uni-bell.org

About the Vinyl Institute:
The Vinyl Institute is a US trade association representing the leading manufacturers of vinyl, vinyl chloride monomer, and vinyl additives and modifiers. The VI works on behalf of its members to promote the benefits of the world’s most versatile plastic, used to make everything from household appliances to flooring, piping, roofing and wallcovering. For more information, visit: http://www.vinylinfo.org


WJLA Misses the Mark on Fire Safety

Scattered local news stations, mostly under the Sinclair Broadcast Group umbrella, recently aired reports on a flawed Underwriters Laboratories (UL) study on home fires. WJLA (ABC7) Washington, DC joined in with a story aired on March 1. While reporter Kimberly Suiters did include some balance at the end of her piece, and by posting materials from the Vinyl Siding Institute at the end of her web article, she continued the trend of missing the mark on fire safety. Stories like these should focus on preventing fires, not re-hashing a decade-old tragedy.

Buried in these segments, or not mentioned at all, is that fact that the UL study was flawed and rejected by UL’s own advisory working group. Another main aspect of any story on fire safety should be that less than four percent of home fires start on the exterior – according to the National Fire Protection Association. Reporters should present consumers with the facts. In discussions about fire safety, it is important to talk about ways to prevent fires and limit the spread, not to scare consumers and taint their views on products that meet and exceed fire safety standards.

It does beg the question of whether Sinclair Broadcast Group is circulating this highly misleading template to their affiliates, considering most of the stories are copycats and ignore our publicly addressed concerns.

Here’s what consumers, and reporters covering this issue, need to know:

  • The 9 year old fire in Loudoun County, VA is a very specific case and not a good example of exterior fires. The footage of this fire used in the WJLA piece and others, likely because it captivating footage of a fire. But the official report on this fire found that a number of factors were to blame for the results of the incident. At least Suiters mentioned the fire was from 2008, unlike other reporters, but she still used the same scare-tactics, misleading viewers at the same time.
  • UL ignored its own advisory group’s concerns about the study. Before undertaking their study, UL convened an advisory group of industry experts, which expressed many concerns about the test plan and tone of the proposed work. UL dismissed those concerns and did not consult with the group through the rest of the program. As a result, the study published by UL reflects flawed test methodology and inappropriate conclusions.
  • UL has not responded to these concerns and continues to make the study available online. The technical deficiencies in the UL study were so egregious that representatives of UL’s working group signed a joint letter in February, 2016 urging UL to promptly remove the study and related wall assembly training videos from UL’s website, UL’s YouTube channel and other UL forums to avoid misleading the public. UL dismissed the working group’s request to have the flawed study taken down.  Remarkably, UL never even responded to the facts presented by the working group regarding the discredited study.
  • The UL study ignores real world scenarios and its conclusions are invalid and cannot be trusted. For example, a fire was replicated by putting a grill directly against the side of the house. Unlikely scenario since the grill would not even be able to open in that position.
  • No residential exterior cladding is designed to be a barrier to fire. WJLA conveyed the impression that vinyl siding should act as a fire barrier to underlying insulation, but that is not the intended role of vinyl siding, wood or any residential exterior cladding. Viewers are right to wonder why stations would selectively hold vinyl siding to this high standard – and fail to point out that wood exterior cladding would likely ignite and burn before the vinyl siding, and likely before any underlying material that the vinyl siding might expose. Moreover, wood sheathing is one of the materials that may be found underneath siding, but such material is already exposed when the house is clad with wood.
  • The fact is, residential fires rarely start outside the structure, and claddings of any type are seldom a factor.  According to the National Fire Protection Association, only four percent of all residential fires start on the outside of the structure, but do not necessarily originate with the exterior cladding. Fewer than two percent of house fires originate with the exterior wall surface, and fewer than three percent of all fires go beyond the structure of origin. The most common areas that produce fires are the kitchen, bedroom, and living room, and most fires (69 percent) never leave the room of origin.
  • To contain residential fires, efforts should focus on limiting the spread of fire to critical areas. This includes eave construction, for example, which should be reexamined to slow a fire’s acceleration from the exterior wall to the attic.  One approach would be to “harden” the interface between the exterior wall and the attic so that fire cannot spread so readily into the attic. This would be consistent with the overall fire protection strategy for combustible buildings, which is to compartmentalize fire so that it cannot readily spread to different areas of the building, while still providing necessary functions such as ventilation.