There’s a saying, one often attributed to Herbert Hoover, that we should never confuse the right to be heard with the right to be taken seriously. 

Nowhere is this cautionary view by our 31st president better applied than with the Healthy Building Network – a group that continues to distort the facts and mislead the public about PVC.

We’ll be specific:

In HBN’s latest screed, the group’s “Research” Director, Jim Vallette, claims two chlorine plants in the U.S. cause mercury pollution by continuing to use “mercury cathode cells” in the production of vinyl chloride.

There’s just one problem – he’s wrong. 

Neither of the two plants that continue to rely on mercury cathodes in the United States supply vinyl chloride or PVC producers. Production of vinyl consumes just over one-third of the chlorine produced in the U.S. and most PVC producers rely on facilities either on-site or nearby.  The two facilities quoted by Mr. Vallette supply water treatment, agricultural, and pharmaceutical applications.

It bears repeating – neither the ASHTA plant in Ashtabula, Ohio plant nor the Axiall plant in Proctor, West Virginia supply the PVC industry in any manner. Vallette incorrectly attributes mercury emissions from these two facilities to PVC in his story.

His inaccuracies don’t stop there… Vallette goes on to claim mercury pollution in the state of New Hampshire is attributable to the PVC industry, referencing this study in his “report” to validate his assertion.  

But that’s not what the facts show. The PVC industry has never maintained any operations in New Hampshire at all. And the study he cites to support his claim actually refers to a former paper mill that existed for over a century, and is now a Superfund Site with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Vallette misinforms his readers that the environmental burden of past pulp and paper operations are now attributable to the vinyl industry. 

So… The Vinyl Institute’s statement he invokes in his story – the one he stridently positions as being inaccurate – is, indeed, correct:  there is no mercury cell chlorine technology used in vinyl production in the U.S.

There’s more: Vallette assails mercury cell use in PVC production in South Africa.  But the shutdown of those mercury cell chlorine facilities was completed in 1998. And before their closure, only an estimated 25% of mercury cell use went towards chemicals used in PVC production. Vallette no doubt knows that the Cato Ridge, Natal plant in South Africa was not solely working on chemicals for PVC – or at least he did when he claimed in his 1991 paper the function of the plant was “recovery of exhausted catalyst and electrical equipment…” Vallette again misinforms his readers that the environmental burden from this facility that reclaimed mercury from electrical equipment now is attributed to the PVC industry.    

Historically, the PVC industry has been a minor contributor to overall mercury emissions.  The EPA itself has identified power plants and metals processing facilities as its primary sources. But Vallette predictably omits these facts, too.

The real concern, of course, is that the Healthy Building Network (HBN), and groups like it, has been spoon-feeding the press with inaccuracies about PVC for some time. And the press has blindly accepted these assertions as fact, without applying any degree of scrutiny or skepticism that is routinely directed at industry.  And no one has held these agenda-driven groups accountable – or questioned their own financial fundraising motives when such baseless statements about PVC are made in the public discourse. 

No one, that is, until now.