The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

August 4, 2009

The Dangers of PVC Plastic

The Center for Health, Environment, & Justice has released its Back to School Guide to PVC-Free School Supplies. It’s a free downloadable guide to all the products kids might need for school, from binders and notebooks to clothes, electronics, lunch boxes, and a host of other products. It includes a comprehensive guide to suppliers as well as general rules to keep in mind.

So what’s wrong with PVC?

I’ve ranted about PVC products quite often on this blog, but in case you missed those posts, here’s a quick summary:

1. PVC is the only major plastic that contains chlorine, so it is unique in the hazards it creates. During production, PVC plants can release dioxins which harm workers and community members who live nearby. Residents of certain towns in Louisiana, which is home to half the PVC production facilities in the USA, have been shown to have much higher concentrations of dioxins in their blood than the average U.S. citizen.

2. The plasticizers used to make PVC soft contain endocrine-disrupting phthalates which can leach from the plastic, especially when used in children’s toys and other products that may find their way into children’s mouths. A German study just released July 27, 2009 in the journal Pediatrics suggests that the use of intravenous feeding bags that contain the common phthalate DEHP might increase the risk of liver problems in premature babies. In fact, many hospitals have replaced the PVC tubing and IV and blood bags they use with less toxic alternatives.

3. Lead is used to stabilize PVC. According to Jennifer Taggart (The Smart Mama) in her comment yesterday about my PVC binders, PVC can also contain

lead or cadmium. If the PVC is stabilized with lead, the lead is available for pickup at the surface – and can then be transferred by the hand to the mouth. In other words, lead can be ingested from a PVC lead stabilized binder without mouthing. Lead doesn’t like being in the plastic matrix, so it migrates to the surface, particularly when exposed to heat and/or friction. Older PVC will have higher concentrations of lead. Having tested lots of binders now with my XRF, there is a substantial percentage that do have lead, but not all.

4. PVC is hard to recycle. According to, because so many different additives are used to make PVC, recycling the plastic is extremely difficult, and any PVC bottles (#3 plastic) that make it into the recycling stream can contaminate and ruin a whole load of #1 bottles.

5. When incinerated, PVC forms dioxins, a highly toxic group of chemicals that build up in the food chain. When landfilled, PVC poses significant long-term environmental threats as chemical additives can leach into groundwater.

6. PVC gives off noxious gases in a fire. Greenpeace says that in a house fire, fire-retardant PVC will smolder for long periods of time rather than burn, “giving off hydrogen chloride gas long before visible signs of fire appear. Hydrogen chloride gas is a corrosive, highly toxic gas that can cause skin burns and severe long-term respiratory damage.” For this reason, the International Association of Firefighters is one of several organizations calling for a phase-out of PVC.

7. For much more information about the hazards of PVC and why we should avoid it, please check out CHEJ’s web site, PVC: The Poison Plastic.

I generally believe that reusing the products we already have is the greener choice. But in the case of PVC, I’d rather encourage the development and manufacture of safer alternatives and send the existing PVC to the hazardous waste facility.


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5 years ago

I would be interested to know what plastics are recyclable and (if possible) how they are used. I was surprised to learn about the toxicity of PVC and glad to know I take care of all my possessions; clothing, furnishings, decor, etc. The same holds true for my DME (Durable Medical Equipment)because I am disabled. I use a PVC showerchair/commode, my second one, and I would be interested in knowing what types of plastics are less of a threat to the environment. My first one had a metal frame frame and in 8 years of use, much of the frame had rusted to the point past saving. The screws that had attached the back to the frame gave way a detached while in use. Luckily, I only sustained a concussion. My next showerchair was PVC and lasted for 20+ years. Sections were damaged in transit when I moved to the Southwest. I prefer plastic for showering, etc. because it’s inexpensive, lightweight and easy to clean. If there is a better plastic out there, I’d like to know. Wheelchair users need durable, lightweight equipment for mobility and everyday activity. Plastic and carbon fiber are making inroads in the DME market place. Carbon fiber is expensive and fixed in its position while metal chairs are adjustable and cost less. Carbon fiber parts are increasing in popularity because of its strength and lightweight. Plastic is the other option. With 3D printing technology, designers and engineers are finding innovative ways to create lightweight, low cost products that ease our mobility and facilitate our independence. If these same items can be manufactured with recycled plastic, I’d be thrilled to learn. I blog about disability issues and this is one I think merits discussion. I have good relationships with DME manufacturers and Disability publications. I feel like my efforts in simple living, eco-living and DIY solutions to barrier free living can be of help. I am constantly learning about new products and this (DME) is the only aspect of my life I am finding to be in conflict with being eco-friendly. I’m sure there’s a way to be both. I would love any feedback you or your readership can offer. Thanks for all your advice!

10 years ago

Hi, I’d like to get some suggestions for non PVC raingear. I was given a set as a gift about 10 years ago and it kept me dry even on the rainiest days whether bicycling or walking. Its finally going in the seams and I would like to replace it. Does anyone have any suggestions? I need something that is actually waterproof and won’t soak me after 10 minutes of drizzle. Thanks.

Beth Terry
10 years ago
Reply to  bbeetttyy

@bbeetttyy Hi. Have you tried Googling “pvc-free raincoat”? There are quite a few articles and products that come up. I haven’t tried any of them, though, so can’t vouch for their effectiveness.

Cupcake R
11 years ago

Never could have though that PVC could contain lead! Thanks for posting.
I will be more careful on future. Thanks again

12 years ago

Beth, I had no idea PVC is so hazardous. It contains lead? That’s really really bad. That’s a great guide for PVC-free school supplies. I will let the parents in my neighborhood know about it. Thanks.

Carmel B
13 years ago

Storex binders and office supplies ( are available at Staples, Business Depot, Wal Mart, etc and have always been PVC free.

Union Glashutte
13 years ago

Does anyone know where you can just buy pvc free school supplies that isn’t on the internet? I don’t have a lot of time and would like to get these for my daughter… The only bad part is some schools take all the supplies and put them in a pile and redistribute so kids aren’t fighting over Hannah Montana crap… I know that’s a poor way to do things, but it’s happening in Houston.

14 years ago

More bad news, but another useful site! Tons of new test data on children's backpacks, on this site launched today.

Hopefully soon there will be stronger regulations against this stuff. Here's the campaign website:

Lisa Sharp
14 years ago

Thanks for posting this. As you know I don't have kids but my husband is a school teacher so this stuff is very useful!

Thien An Nguyen
14 years ago

I just started reading your blog recently. This particular post scared me like no other. Having been a student for the last four years, I never once thought how my binders can be affecting other's health, and my health.

I'm even more terrified because I will soon have a nephew. I'm doing a massive raid of my brother's house so that when the new baby arrives he and his wife (a phd student) is more conscious of their life style for his sake. Her piles of plastic binders can be substituted with these new ones hopefully.

14 years ago

Hello – thanks for the post, I will have to refer to that guide.
Oh – what people will offer kids!
My daugher's preschool had a 'magic show' which sounds like it consisted of a lot of wierd polymers – they sent her home with 'snow' – a dessicant granulated 'gel?' that puffs up when you add water and also a superball that she somehow molded and gelled it together by holding it in her hand in a glass of water (??##!!)
Uh, I can't believe these people encourage children touch these things – why do they think it is so safe?
Just had to share that – I posted earlier I don't worry about my 4year old chewing on toys but she did want to eat the dessicant snow for some reason – she argued with me that they said it was snow and she wanted to eat it. Yikes…

Thanks for all of the info,

Beth Terry
14 years ago

Lena, thanks for the link! The only issue I see with those travel mugs is the large handle, which would make it difficult to fit the mug into my bike cup holder. I think I'll convo the seller and see if she would consider a slightly different design.

Ava, if you haven't already, can you please leave your comment and contact info on the binders post?

14 years ago

Hmm, makes me wonder if my headaches and severe allergies in high school were in part caused by the binders I used. Up until 6th grade, I used the cloth covered binders and at university I switched to paper folders and composition books. Put me in for the drawing, I have a preschooler who shows signs of having chemical sensitivies. It would be great to replace my work binders (I telecommute) and see if we can improve her breathing issues even more.


14 years ago

You commented recently on about plastic lids on travel mugs, and I've been really curious about that so I did some searching and found an Etsy seller who makes ceramic mugs and travel lids They might be a little cumbersome though…

Hope that helps!


Pure Mothers
14 years ago

I had no idea that PVC could contain lead! Thanks for posting.

And Beth, it looks like we are moving to London after all. End of September. I've got my work cut out for me there. No recycling bins in the city and not one person I saw was carrying their own reusable water bottle. Plastic bottles still abound. Ugh!

14 years ago

Thanks for today's post! I am getting ready to post about school supplies. I made a trip to several box stores to see what they were selling and one of the things I looked at was backpacks. I could not tell what they were made of. I looked inside and outside to see if they were PVC. When I got home and checked my email I downloaded this guide and now feel much better about being able to avoid PVC. There is so much plastic in school supplies that it is scary. This guide should help a lot.

Linda A of Citizen Green

14 years ago

Hey Beth, totally off-topic, did you see this article today from Reuters on the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch?"