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Polyvinyl chloride — toxicity, side effects, diseases and environmental impacts

Tuesday, November 14, 2017 by

Polyvinyl chloride, also known as PVC or vinyl, is a synthetic resin produced from the polymerization of vinyl chloride. It is an odorless and solid plastic and can come in the form of white powder or pellets. Next to polyethylene, it is the most widely used plastic in the world. Polyvinyl chloride is versatile, as it can be as rigid as industrial pipes, as pliable as plastic wrap, and as thin and flexible as wallcovering. Moreover, it can be completely clear or any color desired.

Polyvinyl chloride is used in a wide range of applications, such as in the building and construction, health care, electronics, automobile and other sectors. It is used in building and construction because it is strong and resistant to moisture and abrasion. It is used in packaging because of its durability, dependability and light weight, and flexibility. Moreover, it is used in healthcare because it makes blood bags flexible and unbreakable, while it is used in household products because it is affordable, durable, and water-resistant. PVC has the molecular formula of C2H3Cl.

List of known side effects

Vinyl chloride, the chemical used to make polyvinyl chloride, is a known carcinogen. Therefore, PVC can be cancerous. Dioxins are released during the manufacturing, burning, or landfilling of PVC, which heavily contains chlorine. Being exposed to dioxins can result to reproductive, developmental, and other health complications. Moreover, exposure to polyvinyl chloride can cause disruption in the production or activity of hormones in the endocrine system. Vinyl exposure may also affect the lungs and cause asthma.

The harmful side effects of polyvinyl chloride to the environment can be associated to their disposal. Products made with PVC should not be burned. Introducing them to landfills also threatens the environment. Since vinyl products also contain lead, mercury, phthalamites, and chlorine, when they break down these chemicals can leak into the groundwater that can eventually contaminate the water supply and harm the aquatic life.

Body systems affected by polyvinyl chloride

Polyvinyl chloride can affect several body systems, such as the reproductive and integumentary systems. It is detrimental to fertility or to an unborn child. Likewise, it can cause skin irritation and dizziness.

Items that can contain polyvinyl chloride

Polyvinyl chloride is used in the production of a wide variety of products, from domestic to industrial products. This polymer can be found in in products such as pipes, pipe fittings, pipe conduits, vinyl flooring, and vinyl siding. It can also be used to make wire and cable coatings, packaging materials, wrapping film, gutters, downspouts, door and window frames, gaskets, electrical insulation, hoses, sealant liners, paper and textile finishes, thin sheeting, roof membranes, swimming pool liners, weatherstripping, flashing, molding, irrigation systems, containers, and automotive parts, tops, and floor mats.

Polyvinyl chloride, when softened with phtalates, can be used in the production of healthcare devices, such as intravenous (IV) bags, blood bags, blood and respiratory tubing, feeding tubes, catheters, components of dialysis devices, and heart bypass tubing.

Furthermore, PVC can be used in making consumer products, such as raincoats, toys, shoe soles, shades and blinds, upholstery and seat covers, shower curtains, furniture, carpet backing, plastic bags, videodiscs, and credit cards.

How to avoid polyvinyl chloride

One way to avoid polyvinyl chloride is to just simply refrain from using products that contain it. You can do this by checking the packaging of the product, then look for “PVC,” which is often placed next to the three-arrow symbol for recycling. Contacting the manufacturer to ask or verify if their product is PVC-free can be done too.

Where to learn more


Polyvinyl chloride, also known as PVC or vinyl, is a plastic made from a carcinogen known as vinyl chloride. It is used in a wide variety of household and industrial products.

Polyvinyl chloride can cause reproductive and developmental problems.

Polyvinyl chloride can harm the endocrine system.

Polyvinyl chloride can cause asthma and skin and lung irritation.

Polyvinyl chloride can contaminate water supply and harm the aquatic environment.

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