PVC has a reputation as an unhealthy material, with some organisations banning it and others putting it on a precautionary list. Here, US architecture firm Perkins+Will evaluates the latest information for and against.
The health and environmental concerns associated with polyvinyl chloride plastic (PVC; commonly known as vinyl) have been the subject of many publications over the past twenty years, including several extensive reviews by the Healthy Building Network. Given the weight of this evidence, Perkins+Will has included PVC on its Precautionary Lista since 2008.
This does not mean that Perkins+Will has eliminated the specification of all PVC-based products. Instead, in keeping with the precautionary principle, when evidence indicates a relevant adverse finding as it relates to human health or negative environmental impact, Perkins+Will seeks to, where possible and appropriate, present alternatives to building owners for their consideration. The goal is to empower design teams to make informed decisions, recognizing that this is an issue where scientific certainty is elusive.
Perkins+Will includes PVC on the Precautionary List because it presents hazards to people and the environment, beginning with its synthesis and continuing through its manufacture into products, use, and additional significant hazards during its disposal or recycling. In a review of 55 polymersc used in global production, researchers found that while other plastics vary in their use of hazardous substances, any of the highest production volume polymers reviewed were preferable to PVC from an environmental health perspective. This same study noted that, “of the polymers ranked most hazardous, PVC is by far the most used one.