PVC is used to make pipes and plastic medical devices.
What is polyvinyl chloride (PVC)?
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is an odorless and solid plastic. It is most commonly white but can also be colorless or amber. It can also come in the form of white powder or pellets. PVC is made from vinyl chloride. The chemical formula for vinyl chloride is C2H3Cl. PVC is made up of many vinyl chloride molecules that, linked together, form a polymer (C2H3Cl)n.
PVC is made softer and more flexible by the addition of phthalates. Bisphenol A (BPA) is also used to make PVC plastics. PVC contains high levels of chlorine.
PVC is used to make pipes, pipe fittings, pipe conduits, vinyl flooring, and vinyl siding. It is used to make wire and cable coatings, packaging materials, wrapping film, gutters, downspouts, door and window frames, gaskets, electrical insulation, hoses, sealant liners, paper and textile finishes, thin sheeting, roof membranes, swimming pool liners, weatherstripping, flashing, molding, irrigation systems, containers, and automotive parts, tops, and floor mats.
When softened with phthalates, PVC is used to make some medical devices, including intravenous (IV) bags, blood bags, blood and respiratory tubing, feeding tubes, catheters, parts of dialysis devices, and heart bypass tubing. Phthalates are used in PVC plastics such as garden hoses, inflatable recreational toys, and other toys.
Consumer products made with PVC include raincoats, toys, shoe soles, shades and blinds, upholstery and seat covers, shower curtains, furniture, carpet backing, plastic bags, videodiscs, and credit cards.
Most vinyl chloride produced in the United States is used to make PVC.How might I be exposed to PVC?
You can be exposed to PVC by eating food or drinking water contaminated with it. At home, you can be exposed to PVC if you have PVC pipes, vinyl flooring, or other consumer products made with PVC. You can be exposed if your home has vinyl siding or if you are building or renovating your home. Exposure may occur through food packaging and containers or “shrink wrapped” packages.
You can be exposed to PVC outdoors if you have a plastic swimming pool or plastic furniture. You can be exposed if you live or work on a farm that has an irrigation system containing PVC.
You can be exposed to PVC if you are a patient in a hospital and use medical devices made with PVC.
At work, you can be exposed to PVC if you work in a facility that manufactures PVC pipes and pipe fittings, tubing, and other building and construction products. You can be exposed if you work in a facility that manufactures vinyl chloride, BPA, or phthalates. You can be exposed if you are a plumber, home builder, construction worker, health care professional, farmer, or worker in an auto manufacturing facility or repair shop.How can PVC affect my health?
Exposure to PVC often includes exposure to phthalates, which are used to soften PVC and may have adverse health effects.
Because of PVC’s heavy chlorine content, dioxins are released during the manufacturing, burning, or landfilling of PVC. Exposure to dioxins can cause reproductive, developmental, and other health problems, and at least one dioxin is classified as a carcinogen.
Dioxins, phthalates, and BPA are suspected to be endocrine disruptors, which are chemicals that may interfere with the production or activity of hormones in the human endocrine system.
Exposure to PVC dust may cause asthma and affect the lungs.
If you think your health has been affected by exposure to PVC, contact your health care professional.
For poison emergencies or questions about possible poisons, contact your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.
This description is based on the information found in the Web links listed with this topic.
EPA Enforcement Reduces Threats from Polyvinyl Chloride Manufacturing Plants (Environmental Protection Agency) (PDF — 484 KB)
Polyvinyl Chloride. Haz-Map (National Library of Medicine)
Polyvinyl Chloride. Hazardous Substances Data Bank (National Library of Medicine)
Polyvinyl Chloride. PubMed/MEDLINE - Journal Articles (National Library of Medicine)
PVC - A Major Source of Phthalates (New Jersey Department of Human Services)
Last Updated: February 27, 2013