Plastics Impact Human Health

Production of all fossil-fuel-based products is associated with widely recognized health hazards and environmental impacts. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polystyrene are among the worst polymers and are associated with hazards throughout their lifecycle of production, use, and disposal. Production and disposal of PVC releases persistent pollutants into the environment that are known to cause cancer, disrupt the endocrine system, impair reproduction, cause birth defects, and more. [Joe Thornton, Environmental Impacts of Polyvinyl Chloride Building Materials, Healthy Building Network, 2002.] Polystyrene, a common material for take-out containers and other single-use food-related items, is made from benzene (a known carcinogen) and styrene (a suspected carcinogen and known neurotoxin) ["Are Polystyrene Food and Beverage Containers a Health Hazard?" Facts to Act On, Release #5, ILSR, August 15, 1990; National Institute of Health, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Specialized Information Services Web site; and "Fact Sheet on Hormone-Disrupting Chemicals," Rachel's Environment & Health News at http://www.rachel.org].


Three Polymers to Avoid

Polymer Common Applications Health Issues
Polycarbonate (PC) Baby bottles, sports water bottles Can leach out bisphenol A, a hormone disruptor
Polystyrene (PS) Foam insulation, packaging peanuts, plastic utensils, meat trays, egg cartons, take-out containers, single-use disposable cups Uses benzene, styrene and 1,3-butadiene. Styrene is a neurotoxin and is known to be toxic to the reproductive system. PS releases toxic chemicals when burned.
Polyvinyl Chloride
(PVC or vinyl)
Building pipes, siding, membrane roofing, flooring, and window frame; shower curtains, beach balls, credit cards, cooking oil bottles Made from the vinyl chloride monomer; high chlorine and additive content. Toxic additives such as phthalate softeners leach out. PVC releases dioxin and other persistent organic pollutants.

Sources: Healthy Building Network's Guide to Plastic Lumber (2005),
Creating Safe and Healthy Spaces: Selecting Materials that Support Healing (2006),
Center for Health, Environment and Justice's PVC - Bad News Comes in 3s (2004)