USGBC Supports Screening of PVC
Much has changed in the U.S. Green Building Council’s Technical Scientific Advisory Committee [TSAC] final report on PVC [see
]. In this round, TSAC expanded its analysis to account for life-cycle issues that traditional LCA (life-cycle analysis) tools often miss, such as disposal issues and occupational exposures, and found that PVC leads to the release of dangerous quantities of dioxin and other carcinogens. The report authors specifically found that “when we add end-of-life with accidental landfill fires and backyard burning, the additional risk of dioxin emissions puts PVC consistently among the worst materials for human health impacts.”
TSAC looked at a range of health and environmental impact indicators and provided in its report a low, average, and high estimate for each category. Predictably, the results vary depending upon which estimates are used. Even using the low-end estimates, PVC is rarely superior in any product type. Low-end estimates are not, of course, protective of human health. Taking a precautionary principle approach to examining the report’s data using the average and high estimates of impact for all materials leads to the following conclusions:
• In the report’s cancer ranking, PVC is consistently the absolute worst for each of the four product types studied. On the report’s total human health ranking, PVC consistently comes out either tied for worst or absolute worst.
• In the report’s environmental ranking, PVC’s performance is mixed—still absolute worst in the case of flooring, compared with both VCT and sheet vinyl—but better than one alternative and roughly equal to the other alternatives in the other three cases studied. Specifically it ranked better on environment than cast-iron pipes, aluminum siding, and aluminum windows and not significantly different from ABS pipes, wood windows, wood siding, and fiber-cement siding.
Overall one can conclude that screening out PVC will lead to consistently better cancer and overall health results. Other environmental impacts will vary depending upon the material chosen, requiring other screening approaches.
Instead of recommending a specific credit on PVC alone, the report recommends issue-based credits, specifically suggesting “comprehensive approaches to issues such as bioaccumulative pollutants,” an approach that has been gaining momentum in healthcare green design in recent years, screening out materials based on a suite of persistent bioaccumulative toxicants, like dioxin, halogenated flame retardants, heavy metals, and perfluorocarbons.
The report represents an important step for the Council and LEED in signaling the importance of addressing health issues and precaution across the full life cycle of materials.
Tom Lent, Policy Director
Healthy Building Network
Published May 1, 2007