Firefighters Deserve Facts on Environmental Health

Firefighters Deserve Facts on Environmental Health


Our nation’s firefighters have earned the right, without exception, to know what the potential environmental health risks are that impact their community. As with any important public health issue, it’s critical the facts prevail, and that credible science guides the debate in determining potential actions necessary to ensure their safety.  

Firefighter leaders, rightfully, are taking an active role on these important issues. As a representative voice of thousands of courageous men and women, they play an important part in raising awareness for firefighter health and advocating to fix the root cause of the health problems confronting this community.

Recently, however, some firefighter leaders have associated firefighter health issues with factors that have not been credibly linked. They have singled out the use of plastic piping in buildings, including PVC, claiming that emissions from these materials create a greater risk to firefighters when they’re burned, despite scientific evidence showing other causes may be to blame.  

Facts show that all combustible materials, including wood, will yield toxic and carcinogenic byproducts when involved in an accidental fire. And the evidence points to other causes – including diesel engine exhaust – as contributing to cancers in firefighters.

What’s more, certain metallic alternatives to vinyl piping actually increase the risk of flame spread.  Ductile iron pipe, for example, has an asphaltic coating that’s highly flammable.  By contrast, PVC pipe doesn’t spread flames, not to mention it is lighter weight, far easier to use, doesn’t require welding – and outlasts competing materials.

That’s why PVC pipe has been the material of choice for builders in residential and commercial construction for decades, because it’s known for delivering safe, reliable and affordable service.

Firefighter leaders have a unique opportunity to speak out, call for action -- and work passionately, and collaboratively, to help fix firefighter health problems. And they have every right in the world to demand answers for their colleagues who face dangerous conditions each and every day on the job. 

Likewise, those on the front lines deserve to have the facts regarding the environmental risks they face in order to best protect their health and safety.


Topeka, Kansas: A Case Study in Pipe Durability

Topeka, Kansas: A Case Study in Pipe Durability

The Topeka Capital-Journal recently published a story on the large number of water main breaks that the city has endured in recent years. Topeka’s water system relies on 870 miles of pipe. Since the 1940s, Topeka has diversified its system by adding ductile iron pipe and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipe. Today, the system is 39% cast iron pipe, 27% ductile iron pipe, and 25% PVC pipe (figure 1).


Percentage of Pipe Materials Used

Figure 1: Topeka's system of pipes is about 39% cast iron, 27% ductile iron, and 25% PVC, with the remaining made of various other materials.

Of the city’s water main breaks, approximately 66.8% were from cast iron pipes, 18.4% were from ductile iron pipes, and a mere 4.5% were from PVC pipes (figure 2).

Percentage of Pipe Breaks by Material

Figure 2: In Topeka, 66.8% of breaks occur from cast iron pipes, 18.4% from ductile iron pipes, and 4.5% from PVC pipes.

In Topeka, all iron pipes have a failure rate that is more than 18x the failure rate of PVC (figure 3). Ductile iron pipe devotees (and their lobbyists) will tell you that ductile iron is a great improvement over cast iron. And yet, ductile iron pipe still fails at more than 4x the rate of PVC pipe (figure 4).

Pipe Breaks: Iron V. PVC (%)

Figure 3: All iron pipe accounts for more than 18x as many breaks as PVC pipe.

Pipe Breaks: Ductile Iron v. PVC (%)

Figure 4: Ductile iron pipe accounts for more than 4x as many breaks as PVC pipe despite the fact that ductile iron pipe makes up almost the same share of the system (27%) as PVC pipe (25%).

In fact, Topeka has seen a significant number of ductile iron pipes grossly underperforming their expected life span:

Ductile iron pipe should have a lifespan of 100 years, but [Deputy Director of Utilities Braxton Copley] said the city has seen a large number of breaks in pipes that are only 40 to 50 years old.
— Topeka Capital-Journal

The ductile iron pipe industry wants the public to believe that its product is more reliable than PVC but the facts show otherwise. As demonstrated by this case study, PVC is clearly the more durable material.

Living Building Chronicle Perpetuates Activist Rhetoric on PVC

Living Building Chronicle Perpetuates Activist Rhetoric on PVC

A recent piece by Living Building Chronicle, published by the Kendeda Fund, contains a series of broad mischaracterizations about PVC that require correction.  What’s interesting is that the author, Ken Edelstein, goes to great lengths to promote a PVC material competitor, raising reasonable questions regarding a possible hidden motivation driving this story. Regardless, we’ll take the opportunity to ensure the facts are reflected for the record.

What the Environmental Working Group isn’t telling you about Vinyl Products

What the Environmental Working Group isn’t telling you about Vinyl Products

In the last few weeks, EWG  has put out a series of alarmist, inaccurate, and misleading posts about vinyl products. In each of these pieces, EWG has claimed, without question or substantiation, that vinyl products are harmful and should be avoided. But this approach of immediately sounding the alarm on certain products without explaining whether and what health risks actually exist lacks the scientific rigor to which EWG claims to aspire.

Correcting the Record on Vinyl AND Phthalates

WDIO-TV (Duluth, MN) made irresponsible claims about vinyl and phthalates in a segment that aired on 12/6/18.

We’re here to expose their alarmist rhetoric and share the facts. 

Responding to Misleading Social Posts on Luxury Vinyl Plank

Responding to Misleading Social Posts on Luxury Vinyl Plank

Dear vinyl flooring competitors,

Did you really think the public would be swayed by that anonymous Internet post some of you are circulating about Luxury Vinyl Plank (LVP) tile?  You know … the one containing a slew of factual distortions and misleading statements about vinyl flooring products?



The Center for Environmental Fear Mongering Health (CEH) released a report containing a slew of distortions and competitively-motivated claims about PVC pipe.  Here’s what CEH conceals in its irresponsible attempt to mislead readers:


PVC pipe’s safety is well documented.

All PVC pipes in circulation adhere to a strict national standard (NSF 61) to ensure the delivery of safe drinking water. In fact, all pipe materials are tested and screened under this rigid standard. CEH’s claims are merely designed to incite fear, when the facts show PVC pipes are entirely safe for their intended use.


PVC pipe is more durable and affordable than ductile iron pipe – its closest competitor – by a long shot.

PVC pipe has twice the expected lifespan of ductile iron pipe. And it’s far less expensive for municipalities to use.


The life cycle sustainability benefits of PVC pipe are indisputable.

PVC pipe is lighter to transport, requires fewer resources to install, demands fewer machines to manage, and uses less energy because it needs fewer repairs over its lifetime.   It is unquestionably the better environmental choice.


The iron pipe industry has spent millions lobbying its agenda, far more than the PVC pipe industry.¹

Since 2012, the iron pipe industry has spent over $2.3 million to push their political agenda. And that doesn’t include lobbying expenses by the individual iron pipe companies. Didn’t see that anywhere in CEH’s report.


Get the facts about vinyl material and PVC pipe at