PVC or NOT

The use of PVC in the building industry is a huge topic. This month in the Fifth Estate, Willow Aliento and Tina Perinotto have written two informative articles on the current PVC debate. Whilst the PVC industry has been implementing improved practices over the last number of years these articles explore the debate around whether Green Rating Tools should promote best practice PVC use or whether alternative materials should be promoted in its place.

The health issues relating to the manufacture and disposal of PVC are well documented but in short they relate to the chlorine that forms a key part of the PVC polymer. The use of chlorine creates dioxins which are highly carcinogenic and are deemed a persistent organic pollutant (POP) which concentrates both in body tissues and in the food chain. The main problem with these dioxins is that they are pollutants that do not biodegrade. Dr Mariann Lloyd-Smith, senior advisor for the International POPs Elimination Network and the National Toxics Network (Australia), has stated that whilst manufacturers are using improved production methods they are still producing dioxins, just not as many. Her argument is that tests have found that this lesser amount of dioxins still have harmful effects (1).

So what do the main Green Rating Tools advise?

Should we continue using PVC (that adheres to best practice guidelines) in our buildings?

YES

The Green Building Council have accepted that there have been huge improvements in the manufacture of PVC and that much of the concern around PVC is outdated or not relevant to the Australian context. The GBCA has said that markets and innovation react better to encouragements than penalties (2).

The GBCA have a PVC credit to encourage "use of PVC material which adheres to best practice guidelines" (3).

In the US the message is more ambiguous as whilst the LEED rating tool does allow the use of PVC, optional credits are available for using alternative materials in it's place. (4).

In Australia, Ecospecifier and Good Environmental Choice Australia, have both given approval for a restricted number of PVC products that adhere to best practice guidelines and have recycled content  (2).

NO

The US-based "Healthy Buildings Network" is of the opinion that there is no such thing as a safe dose of dioxins and that awarding the use of PVC is making it more difficult for companies that are investing in PVC alternatives (2).

This view is also shared by the Living Building Challenge who do not allow the use of any PVC in their buildings and PVC forms part of their material "Red List" (5). The LBC "Red List" lists all the materials that are not permitted in a "Living Building" and has been taken up by companies as large as Google (6).

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It goes without saying that the PVC debate is complicated and all Green Rating Tools that reward to use of "best practice" PVC do so after completing a lot of research on the topic and their decisions are very well informed. The purpose of this blog is only to highlight the different opinions out there as to whether PVC should be used, at all, in the construction industry.

Here in PIDCOCK we specify the use of HDPE (High Density Polyethylene) in place of underground PVC piping as it is recyclable and does not contain chlorine compounds. HDPE has been used as a substitute for PVC in many "Living Buildings" (7). We are currently researching other alternative materials for exposed piping such as crosslinked high density polyethylene (PE-X). We are very aware that piping is only the beginning of PVC use in buildings but we have found that if our aim is to not use PVC, if at all possible, it pushes us to find alternatives, which we find a very helpful incentive for further research.

As always, the best way forward is to make an informed decision.

REFERENCES

  1. (1) http://www.thefifthestate.com.au/archives/61947/
  2. (2) http://www.thefifthestate.com.au/archives/61945/
  3. (3)  http://www.gbca.org.au/uploads/156/2716/Green%20Star%20PVC%20Credit%20060511.pdf
  4. (4) http://www.leeduser.com/blogs/does-leed-v4-ban-pvc
  5. (5) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_List_building_materials
  6. (6) http://chej.org/2011/05/google-kicking-pvc-plastic-to-the-curb/
  7. (7) https://ilbi.org/lbc/casestudies/omega/materials

 

Fergal White

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