Environmental Leaders Deliver 27,570 Petition Signatures to EPA Calling for Ban on Vinyl Chloride
For Immediate Release: July 27, 2023
Melissa Valliant, Beyond Plastics — MelissaValliant@Bennington.edu, (410) 829-0726
Judith Enck, Beyond Plastics – JudithEnck@Bennington.edu, (518) 605-1770
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, leaders from the environmental organizations Beyond Plastics, Beyond Petrochemicals, River Valley Organizing, Hip Hop Caucus, Moms Clean Air Force, Plastic Free Future, Greenpeace, and others, delivered 27,570 petition signatures to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Washington, D.C., calling for a ban on vinyl chloride. The groups then met with Michal Freedhoff, assistant administrator in the EPA Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention.
“Vinyl chloride’s risk to human health isn’t debatable — it’s a known carcinogen and has devastated communities across America following accidents including the train derailments the toxic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, this past February,” said Judith Enck, president of Beyond Plastics and former regional EPA administrator under President Obama. “Vinyl chloride is dangerous enough that the EPA has already banned it in refrigerants, aerosol propellants, drugs, and cosmetics in 1974 — so why is this toxic chemical still in our homes, plastic drinking-water pipes, and children’s toys? The EPA has the legal authority to ban vinyl chloride, and it is time for the Biden administration to exercise that authority to protect public health, especially in communities where this toxic chemical is manufactured.”
“The signed petitions that we’ve delivered to the EPA send a clear message: We will no longer ignore the risks posed by petrochemicals like vinyl chloride. This is especially true as the industry proposes to build or expand more than 120 facilities in communities already overburdened by pollution,” said Heather McTeer Toney, Beyond Petrochemicals campaign executive director. “Non-toxic alternatives are not only available to us, but also present an opportunity for local economies. By embracing these alternatives, we can create strong places for families to shift from zones of sacrifice to spaces of sustainability.”
Vinyl chloride is a human carcinogen used almost exclusively to make polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, plastic. When the vinyl chloride in PVC burns, new toxic chemicals are formed, including dioxins — the most toxic chemical known to science. As a result, PVC is considered a significant threat to the health of firefighters. Since 2002, almost two out of three firefighters who died in the line of duty died of cancer, according to the International Association of Fire Fighters. Dioxins also persist in the environment for long periods of time, entering the food chain via soil and water.
“Moms Clean Air Force urges strong standards to stop the preventable health harm caused by vinyl chloride. This toxic chemical is a significant threat to our children's health, particularly in Black, Brown and low-wealth communities. When children breathe in vinyl chloride, it can accumulate in their developing body tissue and set off a dangerous cascade of health effects. Vinyl chloride causes liver cancers, brain and lung cancers, lymphoma and leukemia. Preliminary research suggests that infants and young children might be significantly more susceptible than adults to vinyl chloride-induced cancer,” said Almeta E. Cooper, national manager for health equity at Moms Clean Air Force.
The recent train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, was a chilling example of the threat petrochemicals like vinyl chloride poses to Americans, but this toxic chemical has been impacting human health for decades. Many of the vinyl chloride and PVC production facilities in the United States are built along an 85-mile stretch of the Mississippi River in Louisiana, where local residents are predominantly Black and low-income. Because rates of cancer in the area are higher than the American average, this river corridor has become known as “Cancer Alley.”
“After the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, a ‘controlled burn’ of five train cars, with vinyl chloride in them, sent a massive plume over six counties and two states causing thousands to report shortness of breath, nausea, headaches, rashes, and more. For four decades we have discussed banning this toxic chemical. The time for talking is over — we must act now!” said Daniel E. Winston, co-executive director of River Valley Organizing.
Banning vinyl chloride has been discussed for more than 40 years. Some companies have already said they will eliminate this harmful chemical in their products. In January 2022, the U.S. Plastics Pact (a group endorsed by 100 major consumer companies, including Walmart, Target, Unilever, Keurig Dr Pepper, General Mills, and more) made a voluntary commitment to stop using polyvinyl chloride in their plastic packaging by 2025. However, it is still widely used in drinking-water pipes’ building materials, packaging, children’s toys, and many consumer products.
“For decades we’ve called PVC ‘the Poison Plastic,’ because the many toxic chemicals — including vinyl chloride — that are used to make it are used and thrown out. We need more holistic material strategies to address the consequences of the ubiquitous spread of inherently toxic feedstocks and materials — starting with policies that phase them out of production and use, as has been done already in the case of vinyl chloride for just a few applications,” said Charlie Cray, Greenpeace USA senior strategist.
Vinyl chloride wouldn’t be the first hazardous chemicals used in plastic products to be banned. For example, phthalates — chemical additives that make PVC plastic more durable — have been restricted from children’s toys in the United States, the European Union, and many nations around the world.
"We are seeing the social and environmental consequences of a growing plastic economy unfold in real time. The production, transportation, use, and end of life disposal of PVC products are having devastating impacts on human health and the environment. A vinyl chloride ban would go a long way to secure a happier, healthier environment for future generations. Moreover, putting an end to the export of PVC waste to Mexico, Ecuador, and other Latin American countries would end a blatant and shameful example of waste colonialism perpetrated by the USA against its southern neighbors,” said Alejandra Warren, co-founder and executive director of Plastic Free Future.
Speakers at today’s news conference included Daniel Winston (River Valley Organizing), Jessica Conard (Unity Council), Almeta Cooper (Moms Clean Air Force), Charlie Cray (Greenpeace), Chris Walton (Hip Hop Caucus), and Judith Enck (Beyond Plastics). Beyond Petrochemicals executive director and former U.S. EPA regional administrator Heather McTeer Toney moderated and spoke at the event.
To sign the petition urging the EPA to ban this toxic chemical and protect Americans, visit: https://www.beyondplastics.org/actions/ban-vinyl-chloride
To learn more about vinyl chloride, visit: https://www.beyondplastics.org/fact-sheets/vinyl-chloride
About Beyond Plastics
Launched in 2019, Beyond Plastics is a nationwide project that pairs the wisdom and experience of environmental policy experts with the energy and creativity of grassroots advocates to build a vibrant and effective movement to end plastic pollution. Using deep policy and advocacy expertise, Beyond Plastics is building a well-informed, effective movement seeking to achieve the institutional, economic, and societal changes needed to save our planet and ourselves, from the negative health, climate, and environmental impacts for the production, usage, and disposal of plastics.