TOO TOXIC TO TALK ABOUT -
Healthy Flooring Network condemns report on PVC

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PRESS RELEASE FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - 22/03/01

Last week's Government life cycle analysis of PVC [1] is branded "a useless paper exercise" by the Healthy Flooring Network (HFN), a network of health and environment groups. The analysis for the DETR appears to give a "thumbs-up" to PVC in terms of its environmental impact but, says HFN, it fails to address the most serious concern so far linked to PVC - the toxic chemicals released into the environment during its production and disposal, and in the case of phthalates during its very presence in our homes and workplaces.

"This paltry Government attempt to act responsibly over PVC is a farce," says Helen Lynn, spokesperson for HFN and Health Co-ordinator for the Women's Environmental Network. "Without addressing the health and environmental concerns of the toxic pollutants inherent in PVC this exercise does more harm than good. It leaves out the very thing we should be worried about."

The life cycle analysis concluded that PVC's life cycle impacts are not significantly higher than those of alternatives, but the analysis focussed almost entirely on issues related to energy consumption. Environmental and human health impacts were not included because the authors, consultancies Entec UK and Ecobalance UK, felt unable to quantify them.

Yet environmental groups including HFN have only recently submitted evidence to the EU [2] specifying the toxicity of PVC's raw ingredients as well as its potential by-products - especially dioxin created during manufacture and incineration - as the major causes for concern. Europe is just considering measures to control the production of PVC.

"The UK Government's inadequate report could not have come at a worse time. The idea that PVC is not too bad must be corrected immediately," said Helen Lynn. The Government analysis did find that PVC was worse for flooring than timber and linoleum - but because it uses more energy and non-renewable resources; contributes more to global warming and generates more waste. The serious issue of toxic chemicals was sadly missed.

Recently HFN exposed high levels of some toxic chemicals when they commissioned independent laboratory analysis of some of Britain's most popular vinyl (PVC) floors [3]. This analysis showed that vinyl is loaded with chemicals that could escape into the indoor environment. The most significant finding was high levels of an organotin, tributyl tin (TBT), known to cause a condition called 'imposex' in populations of molluscs. In this condition females grow male sex organs and become sterile. The use of TBT as an antifouling agent on ship's hulls is to be banned by the International Maritime Organisation. It is highly likely that organotins leach out of PVC into the indoor environment.

Studies have shown that phthalates used as softeners in flexible PVC do escape. They leach out from vinyl flooring, are washed out during cleaning and can attach themselves to particles such as house dust. BBP is one of the phthalates causing most concern about its toxicity. Of five vinyl flooring samples analysed - from Marley Floors, B&Q, Gerflor Ltd., Armstrong, and Forbo Nairn, three - Gerflor, Armstrong and Forbo Nairn - contained very high levels of benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP). DINP, another phthalate, was found in all of the samples. Both BBP and DINP have been banned from chewy children's toys because of their potential health effects.

There is growing evidence that phthalates can contribute to allergic disease and other health problems. One Nordic study linked exposure to these chemicals to inflammation of the lung airways and increased risk of asthma, while others have raised fears that phthalates act as hormone disruptors.

Today HFN challenged the Department of Environment, Transport and Regions to admit its life cycle analysis is inadequate. "We urge Michael Meacher to support moves within the EU to regulate this toxic product. That would really be doing something useful in the battle to reduce toxic pollution of our indoor and outdoor environments."

For more information please contact Helen Lynn 0207 481 9004.

Editors Notes:
1. DETR PRESS RELEASE, 13/03/01
2. The data for the HFN study on Hazardous Chemicals in PVC Flooring was submitted to the European Commission's public consultation on Environmental Issues of PVC, in November 2000. The European Parliament's deliberations on PVC are due to continue on April 6th 2001.
3. The HFN report, "Poison Underfoot - Hazardous Chemicals in PVC Flooring" is available from www.healthyflooring.org or from HFN, c/o The Women's Environmental Network, PO Box 30626, London E1 1TZ.


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