4 Fast Facts on Dangerous PVC in Schools

Exposure to harmful chemicals starts in the womb. What the mother eats and encounters in her everyday life will affect the baby she is carrying. Because of the wide use of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a mother and her child will encounter this ubiquitous plastic throughout their lives. Of particular concern for growing children are the years they spend in school buildings that contain many products made from PVC.

What Is PVC?

PVC, also known simply as vinyl, is a synthetic plastic polymer that can be used in a variety of applications in the home and in businesses.

PVC was accidentally discovered in 1872 by a German chemist, but it wasn’t until 1926, after experiments at the B.F. Goodrich Company, that it became commercially usable.

Where Is PVC in Schools?

Because it is a versatile, inexpensive, and durable plastic, PVC is common in our modern world. It can be found in plastic bottles and food packaging, children’s toys, flooring, pipes, construction, and even clothing. Items used in healthcare applications, such as IV bags, oxygen masks, and surgical gloves, can be either disposable or reused after being sterilized with steam.

But its usefulness and durability are part of why PVC is a cause for concern. Products made of PVC emit a chemical off-gas for many years.

PVC in schools is an important concern because children spend a lot of time in the classroom as they are growing. What they encounter in school buildings can make a big impact on their health and development.

In 2008, phthalates, chemicals that soften PVC products, were banned in children’s toys because of serious health concerns. But overlooked were additional places where phthalates still occur, such as flooring and other products found in school buildings.

PVC health hazards in school environments can also include cleaning products, school and office supplies, and playground equipment.

What Is Wrong with PVC?

“PVC is the most toxic plastic for our health and environment,” according to the Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ).

The CHEJ makes this claim mainly for two reasons:

  • “No other plastic contains or releases as many dangerous chemicals.”
  • “There’s no safe way to manufacture, use or dispose of PVC products.”

The Center for Biological Diversity agrees: “[PVC] releases toxic chemicals and carcinogens into the air, water, and food web at every stage of its life cycle, including dioxin and phthalate plasticizers.”

PVC is widespread in schools, where students and teachers spend many hours indoors.

Why Are The PVC Health Hazards To Children and Babies?

The CHEJ stresses that as a child rapidly grows in the womb and during childhood, exposure to toxic chemicals can seriously affect the development of the brain and other organs. Because of their size, even a small exposure can have big repercussions for children.

The CHEJ points to studies that show a link between the onset of asthma and the presence of school building products, particularly flooring and carpeting, where moisture and dust can increase chemical exposure.

Indoor pollution is another area of concern, according to the CHEJ. PVC off-gassing can accumulate in sealed and insulated buildings and result in an indoor environment that is more polluted than the outdoors.

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