For Immediate Release, July 24, 2014

Contact:  Emily Jeffers,, (415) 779-4253

Legal Petition to EPA: Protect People, Wildlife From Dangerous Chemicals in PVC Plastic

Petition Would Classify PVC as Hazardous Waste, Require Safer Disposal

SAN FRANCISCO— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a legal petition today urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to protect people, wildlife and the environment from toxic and carcinogenic chemicals found in polyvinyl chloride (PVC), the same material once common in household plumbing. If successful, the petition will require that PVC be classified as hazardous waste, resulting in better regulations for disposal and, ultimately, a reduction in the amount of plastic trash and toxic chemicals additives contaminating communities across the country and polluting oceans worldwide. 

“PVC plastic is one of the most hazardous consumer products ever created, but once we’re through with it, it can be thrown away just like food scraps or grass clippings,” said Emily Jeffers, a Center attorney. “The problem is that some of the very chemicals that make PVC so durable for our use have the potential to poison people and wildlife, especially if it finds its way into the ocean and starts to break down. It’s time for EPA to do its job and prevent plastic trash from poisoning our environment.”

Plastic pollution is one of the leading threats to sea life. For decades scientists have warned that inadequate waste management strategies — the ways we dispose of our trash — are contributing to the widespread degradation of the marine environment. As much as 80 percent of ocean litter consists of lightweight and durable plastic trash, which kills or injures thousands of seabirds, turtles and marine mammals each year. PVC is cause for special concern because it leaches significant concentrations of toxic chemicals as it deteriorates with age. 

From production to disposal, PVC poses a toxic threat. Researchers, regulators and industry representatives have long known of the carcinogenic effects of vinyl chloride, PVC’s primary building block. Recent studies demonstrate that various chemical compounds used to facilitate processing and improve the characteristics of PVC also harm human health and contaminate the environment. 

Up to 80 percent of finished PVC may consist of phthalate plasticizers, which interfere with the production and distribution of hormones in humans and wildlife. Phthalates are not chemically bound to PVC, so they easily slip off the plastic and lead to pervasive contamination in the environment. In the United States, human exposure to phthalate plasticizers is virtually universal, beginning in the womb and continuing throughout life, raising concerns about adverse health consequences at every age. 

“PVC releases chemicals linked to cancer, birth defects and diabetes,” said Jeffers. “One in 4 women in the United States already exhibit signs of contamination. That’s unacceptable. The EPA has the authority to act and ought to move quickly before it gets any worse.”

Today’s legal petition was filed under two laws that aim to protect the public and the environment from hazardous waste. The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act authorizes EPA to impose stringent regulatory safeguards, including an extensive cradle-to-grave manifest system, tracking the generation, transport and receipt of hazardous wastes. Under the Toxic Substances Control Act, the agency is required to regulate any chemical substance that presents an unreasonable risk of injury to human health or the environment.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 775,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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