Less PVC is PossibleJan 03, 2018
by Angela Cummings and Sophia Ruan Gushée
PVC (polyvinyl chloride), also known as vinyl, is used to make countless products that fill our closets, shelves and homes. As a durable, strong, waterproof material PVC has become hugely popular in furniture, clothing, shoes, sports equipment, bags, medical equipment, building materials, credit cards, balls, bouncy castles, wall decals, window clings, packaging and so much more. It’s everywhere. While products made from PVC are the norm in our society, the health effects are anything but normal. PVC has been found to be the most toxic type of plastic on the market today. (1)
Harmful effects of PVC
PVC is an odorless and solid plastic that is made of a complex chemical formula. Below is a summary of key chemicals often used in PVC.
- To start, ethylene, an oil and gas byproduct, is combined with chlorine and results in the creation of ethylene dichloride or 1,2-dichloroethane, which are in the solvent chemical family. (2)
- Phthalates are added to make the plastic more flexible and softer. Phthalates may disrupt hormones, reproductive and developmental systems (3), and can contribute to cancer development. (4)
- BPA, bisphenol-A, is used to harden plastics. BPA may be contributing to asthma, autism, cancer, behavioral conditions, reproductive issues, diabetes, heart disease, autoimmune disorders and obesity (5).
- Sometimes when chemicals combine they create a new chemical. Dioxins are an example of this. Dioxins are created during the manufacturing of PVC. Even in low doses, dioxins have been found to cause harm to the development, reproductive, immune and endocrine systems. (6)
- Several chemicals found in PVC are known to off-gas volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and are on the list of Hazardous Air Pollutants developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The effects of these, and other chemicals, can influence children’s health even more than adults. With more biological vulnerability and more contact with chemicals, children should be more protected from these chemicals. PVC products such as teethers, toys, bibs, and rattles inevitably end up in their mouth multiple times per day. The number of children’s products made with PVC doesn’t stop there.
Children’s products where PVC can be found
Many products that are used by, and specifically made for, children are made from PVC or vinyl. Among them are:
- high chairs
- car seats
- bath tub toys
- dolls and action figures
- bathtub mats
- children’s place mats
- binders, pencil cases and other school supplies
- waterproof jackets and snow pants
- water gun
- pool toys
- children’s chairs (outdoor and indoor)
- children’s construction sets
- packaging of children’s products
- many, many others
Choosing Less PVC is Possible
At first it may seem impossible to choose products with less PVC, especially for children. The convenience of a durable, light weight, waterproof product that is easily washable is significant for parents. But PVC alternatives are available and can be just as valuable to children.
- Swap teethers with an icy cold wash cloth. Choose a wash cloth made with organic cotton, natural dyes and finishes so that you’re not trading one set of chemicals for another.
- Wooden high chairs and children’s chairs are a great alternative to PVC. Due to its sturdy and nontoxic quality, solid hardwood material should be chosen with a zero- or low- VOC stain, paint and/or finish.
- Bibs come in organic cotton varieties that are either whitened with hydrogen peroxide or dyed with natural dyes. While the bibs made to be a thicker material, they are not completely waterproof.
- Toys, action figures, puzzles and construction sets’ are available in wood. Look for toy manufacturers that use solid hardwood and nontoxic paints or finishes.
- Use bathtub mats made from natural rubber or natural latex. For those allergic to latex, consult your doctor first.
- Binders, pencil cases and other school supplies that are “PVC free” are available in some major retail stores and online. Choose school supplies that have the least amount of PVC possible.
- Join a local parenting group. Many are popping up as an email community. This can be an excellent resource to find used wooden toys and furniture. This will be good for your wallet, health, and our planet! Always search any consumer alerts that may affect the safety of reused furniture and toys though. For example, the safety requirements for cribs have changed over the years so you want to make sure that the adopted children's products will be safe.
PVC is used to make so many products that we use everyday and is convenient to find. It can be tough to leave that convenience behind. While adults and children alike are affected by the harmful chemicals in PVC, small children are most at risk. This makes children’s products a good place to start getting rid of the PVC in your home. Products made from natural materials such as organic cotton and solid hardwood are good alternatives to products made of PVC. Be sure to look for materials that are dyed, stained, painted and finished with natural ingredients. Choose health over convenience. Someday your children will thank you.
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