News Brief

A Bad Week for PVC: Toxic Spill, and Imports Halted Due to Forced Labor

A train derailment released toxic vinyl chloride in Ohio, and due to forced labor concerns, U.S. Customs has stopped the import of PVC products from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China, a major supplier of vinyl flooring.

Flames engulfing charred skeleton of train cars that were carrying chemicals.

Fire engulfs trains carrying vinyl chloride and other chemicals in East Palestine, Ohio.

Photo: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. License: Public domain.
PVC’s already tainted health, environmental, and social justice record took two major hits this past month. First, PVC products were added to the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA) list that is intended to prevent U.S. imports of products from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in China that are “mined, produced, or manufactured” with forced labor. And second, a train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, has led to a significant release of toxic vinyl chloride—the building block of PVC.

The UFLPA listing could make vinyl flooring much harder to source. The act, which went into effect in June 2022, originally included construction products such as timber, steel, and photovoltaic panels, but did not include those made from PVC—whose troubled production in the region is outlined in Built on Repression: PVC Building Materials’ Reliance on Labor and Environmental Abuses in the Uyghur Region. That has changed. PVC is now on the UFLPA list, according to the international trade law firm Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg, P.A.

This means that PVC products from XUAR, such as luxury vinyl tile (LVT), cannot be imported into the U.S. and are now being detained unless “(1) the importer provides ‘clear and convincing evidence’ to CBP [U.S. Customs and Border Protection] that the goods were not made with forced labor and (2) the importer has fully complied with due diligence guidance and regulations and responded to all related CBP inquiries,” according to an article on the law firm’s website.

The prohibition adds to PVC’s poor environmental and social justice showing over the past month. The train derailment in Ohio is a serious domestic concern because vinyl chloride is flammable and can cause angiosarcoma, an aggressive liver cancer. East Palestine was evacuated and, to avoid an explosion risk, the five cars carrying vinyl chloride were intentionally set on fire, releasing toxic substances into the air, water, and surrounding communities. The chemical release is having implications far beyond East Palestine and has led to the closure of fresh water intakes as far away as Cincinnati.

More about vinyl flooring and PVC

Forced Labor and the Building Material Supply Chain 

Resilient Flooring: Finding the Green Sweet Spot 

Resilient Flooring

Liquid Linoleum: Seamless Natural Flooring 

The PVC Debate: A Fresh Look

Two Phthalate-Free PVC Plasticizers Stand Out in New Report

Published February 18, 2023

Ehrlich, B. (2023, February 18). A Bad Week for PVC: Toxic Spill, and Imports Halted Due to Forced Labor. Retrieved from

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February 21, 2023 - 3:30 pm

Thanks Brent. This disaster might spur some good things. Readers who have not seen it may want to read this oped piece in the NYTimes: "This Deadly Chemical Should Be Banned",