The nonprofit Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ) kicked off a new campaign last week to bring public pressure to bear on Target retail stores. The aim is to convince the company to phase out a wide range of products made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC). CHEJ, a leading advocate for environmental justice and consumer health, labels PVC as "the poison plastic" because its production, use and disposal can lead to the release of chemicals linked to cancer, birth defects and other human health maladies.
In lieu of federal regulations banning the production and distribution of products made from PVC, CHEJ is appealing to corporations—and their customers—directly. "We know enough about the dangers of PVC to begin to phase it out," says Lois Gibbs, CHEJ’s founder. "We need to tell corporations to protect our health and environment by switching to non-PVC materials," she adds.
Some of the everyday items made out of PVC that Target sells by the ton include shower curtains, curling irons, children’s toys and baby products. According to the "Target Uncovered" toolkit CHEJ is distributing to interested consumers, the familiar new Target shower curtain smell so common in American bathrooms "is poisonous chemicals being released
in your home."
Major corporations such as Wal-Mart and Microsoft have agreed in recent years to phase PVC out of product packaging, but CHEJ is looking for even stronger commitments against using the material in products themselves. CHEJ wants Target to set an example by agreeing to substitute PVC with safer materials that use less harmful chemicals.
But critics of CHEJ maintain that PVC has been used safely by humans for more than 70 years in a variety of medical and commercial applications. A 2002 report by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found "no reports of adverse human health effects" from use of intravenous (IV) bags and medical tubing made with PVC. And the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) denied a 1998 petition by Greenpeace to ban the use of PVC in soft vinyl toys, with CPSC Commissioner Mary Sheila Gail stating that "consumers may have a high level of assurance that soft plastic products pose no risk to children."
On the other hand, repeated studies have shown that exposure to dioxins, the toxic chemicals off-gassed by PVC, can result in altered liver function, impairment of the immune system, and endocrine and reproductive troubles. Dioxins are also classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as "known human carcinogens," while chronic exposure of animals to dioxins has resulted in several types of cancer.
Ultimately, individual consumers must decide for themselves whether or not to buy products that contain PVC.