Identifying PVC in the home

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PVC is the most toxic plastic manufactured, not only in it's manufacturing process, but also in the harmful chemicals that it releases such as phthlates, lead & organotins.

Identifying PVC in the home

The good news for us living in the European Union, is that some specific phthalates are prohibited in the use of certain PVC products. Three phthalates; DEHP - di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, DBP - dibutyl phthalate and BBP - benzyl butyl phthalate have been banned in all toys and child care products. Three others; DINP - diisononyl phthalate, DIDP - diisodecyl phthalate, and DNOP - di-n-octyl phthalate have been banned from use in toys and childcare products that are intended to be put in the mouth by children under the age of 3 years.

This is great news for our children in terms of phthalate exposure, but because these bans only concern products directly related to children's toys and child care products, PVC in other household products still contain these dangerous phthalates. Phthalates are released into the air from PVC, they are then easily inhaled and are absorbed into household dust. Because young children, especially crawling babies spend so much time on the ground they are likely to ingest this dust. Phthalates are also ingested any time a child mouths a PVC product which contains phthalates.
Phthalates are considered a Probable Carcinogen by the World Health Organization, they are also an endocrine disruptor, that interferes with hormones and have been shown to impair the reproductive system in rodents, and concerns have been raised that similar effects may arise in male infants in humans. Health issues related to toxic phthalates include increased risk of miscarriage, male reproductive development impairment such as undescended testicles, enlarged prostates and reduced sperm count, and early onset puberty in girls. Phthalates have also been linked to liver and kidney damage, tests have been shown to cause liver cancer and kidney damage in animals.

Phthalates are not the only concern with PVC, some of the stabilizers used in PVC include organotins, BPA and lead, which can have a toxic effect particulary on young children. There are no regulations by which manufacturers must state which phthalates or stabilizers have been used in their products. Organotins have been shown in tests to cause nervous and respiratory problems in humans in addition to reproductive and developmental impairment in animals. In the 1960's an organotin known as TBT was used on the hulls of boats to prevent barnicals and limpets attaching them selves - this had a detrimental effect on the marine life, and caused shellfish to change sex. Orgnaotins have also been shown to compromise the immune system in laboratory animals by destroying the function of immune cells. BPA is a known endocrine disruptor that mimics estrogen, disrupting normal function and has been shown to cause birth defects in laboratory animals. BPA has been linked with breast cancer, male reproductive system defects, miscarriage, immune system defects, polycyctic ovarian syndrome, ADHD, diabetes, early onset puberty in girls and obesity. Lead is highly toxic when ingested or inhaled. In adults lead is absorbed very slowly into the body, but is processed by the body and excreted even more slowly. In small children the body mistakes lead for calcium (something which a small child's growing body needs a lot of so absorbs very easily) so lead is absorbed more easily and rapidly by a child than by an adult. Lead is accumulative in the body over time, because of the bodies slow elimination. It is absorbed by the red blood cells and circulated through the body where it becomes concentrated in soft tissues, especially the liver and kidneys. Lead causes lesions in the central nervous system and damages the cells that make up the blood brain barrier (BBB) which protects the brain from harmful toxins and chemicals. Children exposed to high levels of lead show signs of slowed mental growth.

It is difficult to identify vinyl because there are no labeling requirements on most products. Some products - such as bottles - are marked on the bottom with the #3 or the letter "V" surrounded by chasing arrows. Products may be marked by the letters PVC or simply the word 'Vinyl'. Soft PVC is often very flexible and has a distinct odor. Call the manufacturer if you've not sure if its vinyl. PVC is a major plastic material which is used widely in packaging, transport, electrical goods, toys, health care and coated fabrics. It is near impossible to avoid PVC in our homes, but by knowing which products are made of PVC, we can take steps to protect our children from mouthing these products, and reduce their amount of phthalate exposure.

Products which may be made of PVC include:

Vinyl shows up in a vast aray of products: 'Oil Cloth' nowadays is PVC coated cloth (used for wipe clean tablecloths, bibs, book bags, toilet bags, aprons), shower curtains, garden hoses, credit cards, imitation leather, upholstery, packageing, mattress covers, outdoor furniture, building material, items of clothing (like raincoats), shutters and blinds, packageing, wire/cable insulation, Appliance housing (TV, video, stereo, circuit cards, white goods.)

Plastics in the kitchen
Look out for the PVC or #3 symbol on plastic kitchenware and bottles, dish and clothes racks . Phthalates are more likely to leach out of plastic when it's heated, so avoid cooking or microwaving in plastic. Some plastic food wraps also contain phthalates.

If you choose to avoid PVC products altogether with your children, because of the absence of any regulation of the labeling of stabilizers used in PVC toys, look out for the following in your childcare products:

Identifying PVC in the home

In the toy box
Squishy teething toys, plastic play food, plastic animals, dolls with soft plastic head and limbs, plastic dolls, fake leather toys (e.g juggling balls).

In the bathroom
Plastic wipe clean/bath books. Squeezy bath toys.

Around the house
Wellingtons/gumboots and raincoats. Pushchair rain covers.PVC coated cotton bibs. Imitation leather baby shoes and inflatable toys (paddling pools, water wings, beach balls)- Again check with the manufacturer if you suspect any of these items is made of PVC.

By ensuring your floors are vacuumed regularly and that any hard surfaces are wet mopped, you can reduce the amount of household dust that may have absorbed phthalates. Using safe alternatives where possible, and limiting small children from mouthing PVC products not covered by the EU phthalate ban (e.g chewing on your credit card while you are waiting at the supermarket checkout) you will help greatly reduce your child's exposure to phthalates and toxic stabilizers.

While we are on the topic of protecting our children from phthalates, some other products that may contain phthalates may include:

Nail polish
Look for Dibutyl phthalate(DBP) on the ingredients list of nail polish, especially chip-resistant polish.

Diethyl phthalate (DEP) is often used as part of the "fragrance" in some products but most probably won't be listed separately, as it will just fall under the umbrella of 'fragrance' on the ingredients list. To avoid it choose cleaning and personal care products that don't have the word "fragrance" on the ingredients list.

Air Fresheners
Just like fragrances in personal care products, most air fresheners contain phthalates.

Paints and some other hobby products may contain phthalates as solvents, so be sure to use them in a well-ventilated space and away from children.

Personal Care and Toiletries
DBP (di-n-butyl phthalate) and DEP (diethyl phthalate) are often found in personal care products, including deodorants, perfumes and cologne, aftershave lotions, shampoos, hair gels and hand lotions. BzBP (benzylbutyl phthalate) is also in some personal care products. And DMP(dimethyl phthalate) is used in insect repellent.