The Healthy Building Network (HBN) has reminded us yet again why Vinyl Verified is necessary to fact check the group’s reckless distortions about PVC. HBN, which has a financial motivation to mislead the public about vinyl, is now using its same tired tactics to take aim at PVC products in carpet backing. In its latest piece, the group engages in wild speculation, misstates the findings of important studies, and misrepresents the PVC production process, all for the purpose of inciting groundless consumer fear and hysteria regarding these products.
This isn’t anything new. HBN has a long, undeniable history of deceiving the public on PVC. We’ve documented them here, here, and here. The group’s statements and baseless claims against our industry have revealed an extraordinary lack of factual understanding and credibility regarding important matters involving PVC. Here’s what this particular analysis gets wrong.
HBN’s focus on PVC production isn’t just misleading, it’s rife with errors. The section kicks off by mentioning two classes of chemicals- heavy metal stabilizers and organotins, which aren’t even used in flexible PVC- to base its claim of alleged product toxicity.
HBN also continues to misrepresent the use of asbestos in the chlor-alkali process:
- HBN’s asbestos expert misleads readers when he asserts that asbestos use is limited to chlor-alkali production. In fact, over 99.9% of asbestos from a single mine in Brazil is used for non-chlor-alkali production uses, such as to reinforce cement. We’ve corrected HBN on this before – but you’ll likely never hear about this from them, because HBN’s agenda is singularly focused on PVC.
- And most U.S. PVC producers rely on chlorine produced from non-asbestos membrane cells for the majority of chlorine feedstocks. The fact is, PVC resin production uses only 20 percent of the yield from U.S. chlor-alkali production, and the other 80 percent is used in a host of other products, including pulp and paper, food additives, pharmaceuticals, and textiles. Consumers of caustic soda and chlorine not used in PVC rely more heavily on the asbestos diaphragm technology HBN criticizes. These industries include metals processing, water treatment, and wood pulp processing.
- Asbestos is highly regulated, and its use in chlorine production is heavily controlled to prevent workplace or environmental exposures. And HBN predictably fails to mention that the limited use of asbestos in chlor-alkali production meets all EPA and OSHA regulations for handling and disposal, mitigating both worker and environmental exposure.
HBN wants you to think most plasticized PVC contains added flame retardants, but that’s not true. The chloride bound in the backbone of the vinyl molecule provides enough flame retardant to meet the needs of most plasticized vinyl applications. And because of its low heat release and self-extinguishing characteristics, PVC has been widely shown to be safer in a house fire, as it can help give occupants more time to escape.
Nevertheless, HBN’s study conveys the irresponsible impression that chemicals in PVC are uniquely harmful to the environment. As an example, HBN demands a stricter standard on the use of antimony trioxide flame retardant in PVC than what is typically found in ordinary plastic water bottles. The group makes a laundry list of other alleged health risks without providing any corroborating evidence. And its focus on halogenated flame retardants in asserting a perceived health risk regarding PVC is incredibly disingenuous, especially since most of these chemicals have been discontinued as part of the industry’s commitment to continued innovation.
Similarly, HBN’s assertion that burning PVC products is uniquely toxic is completely absurd. Burning anything- including wood- releases persistent and bioaccumulative toxic substances. Yet HBN makes no mention of this, and exclusively singles out PVC as part of its financially-driven campaign to mislead the public about the material.
Today’s plasticized vinyl materials are designed to retain the plasticizer for decades of safe use. HBN tries desperately to position phthalates in PVC as harmful to consumers, but many of our nation’s very own regulatory agencies disagree with this misguided claim. Even the State of California – known for applying some of the toughest environmental regulations in the country – has issued Safe Use Determinations for listed plasticizers used in flooring, carpet, and roofing materials. Phthalates are used in a wide variety of consumer products regulated by various government bodies, and certain phthalate use in consumer products has been extensively studied and regularly found to be safe.
To say the issue has been addressed and studied extensively would be a spectacular understatement. There are more than 1,000 articles on phthalates in the scientific literature. And HBN’s claim of a potential health risk is simply not credible, as it’s based exclusively on results of high-dose rodent experiments. Yet HBN continues to ignore the scientific facts that show direct correlation to humans is not possible because humans metabolize phthalates differently than rodents. As an analogy, raisins are toxic to dogs' kidneys but do not have a similar effect on humans. But no one is claiming we should stop feeding our children raisins because they make dogs sick.
A pattern of omissions and misrepresentations is consistent throughout HBN’s carpet study. HBN’s assertions constitute a litany of scientifically unsound claims alleging consequences and links to various ailments – yet HBN can’t point to a single epidemiological study to support them.
Not surprisingly, they use this flawed data to create the impression that the current regulatory framework has gaps. But the regulatory framework HBN calls for is already in place.
Environmental regulators have extensively reviewed PVC products, and many are certified with Environmental Product Declarations, which help quantify a product’s overall environmental impact.
Worse, the ratings systems HBN recommends are decidedly less scientific. That’s because they eschew life cycle analysis – which is critical in establishing the sustainability of any product.
And many of the green standards HBN touts fail to disclose important details regarding their evaluation process, raising appropriate questions regarding the scientific integrity of their results. Not coincidentally, the organizations backing these standards often produce documents like this one – replete with inaccuracies and unsubstantiated conclusions.
Similarly, HBN’s recent study isn’t based on any sort of rigorous scientific analysis. It is, however, a perfect example of the group’s decade-long, agenda-driven distortion effort to misinform the public about PVC.
As we’ve said before: 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.