Plastic Production Releases Mercury, Asbestos, PFAS
Chlorine is a problem. Used in many industrial processes, including the production of PVC and other plastics, it readily combines with other compounds to form persistent, bioaccumulative toxic chemicals (PBTs). These chemicals are not only toxic but also highly mobile in the environment and don’t break down readily.
The green building community has looked askance at PVC for decades because of the plastic’s significant chlorine content and the associated pollution (see The PVC Debate: A Fresh Look). Now a new report from the Healthy Building Network adds more details, showing that many chlorine-producing plants also contaminate the environment with mercury and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, while others put miners and other workers at risk by using asbestos. The chlorine from these facilities is used not only in PVC but also in the production of polyurethane, epoxy, and polycarbonate.
The report, Chlorine and Building Materials: A Global Inventory of Production Technologies, Markets, and Pollution, provides a factory-by-factory profile of chlor-alkali production plants in the Americas, Europe, and Africa (a planned phase two of the project will cover Asia). Funded in part by Carnegie, Designtex, Interface, Humanscale, Interface, Metroflor/Halstead, and Tarkett, the research is designed to help manufacturers manage their supply chains by highlighting the worst polluters. “We funded this report because we support transparency in the PVC supply chain and hope this is the start to more collaboration with the Healthy Building Network to improving the PVC supply chain,” said Interface in a statement provided to BuildingGreen. The company manufactures carpet, some of which includes PVC backing, as well as luxury vinyl tile.
But there’s a big takeaway for building professionals as well, according to Jim Vallette, research director at the Healthy Building Network and the author of the report.
“When architects design a building that uses products like polyurethane and PVC, they are choosing to participate in the chlorine economy,” said Vallette. He added, “For most applications, there are many products on the marketplace that are drop-in replacements that avoid releasing high-hazard pollution.” Thanks to the level of detail provided in the report, however, “if the owner insists upon specifications that will lead to the purchase of chlorine-dependent products, professionals can still ask manufacturers, ‘Where did the chlorine come from?’”
For more information:
Healthy Building Network
Melton, P. (2018, August 23). Plastic Production Releases Mercury, Asbestos, PFAS. Retrieved from https://www.buildinggreen.com/newsbrief/plastic-production-releases-mercury-asbestos-pfas