Huffpost Green
THE BLOG

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Miyoko Sakashita Headshot

It's Time to Take this Poisonous Plastic Out of Our Oceans

Posted: Updated:

You may love the plastic in your credit card, water pipes and gym bags but whales, sea turtles and birds certainly don't.

Polyvinyl chloride, also known as PVC or vinyl, is one of the world's most common plastics. It's also a major source of dangerous chemicals, including substances linked to cancer, birth defects, asthma and obesity.

And here's the problem: Americans discard more than 7 billion pounds of PVC each year, but regular garbage dumps don't prevent this waste from reaching the environment.

Once discarded, dangerous chemicals like phthalates and vinyl chloride can easily migrate into the groundwater beneath conventional landfills, ultimately poisoning nearby wetlands and streams.

What's more, strong winds often carry plastic trash directly into the ocean.

For years, we've known that plastic pollution seriously threatens marine species. Thousands of dolphins, turtles, sea birds and other animals die or suffer injuries each year after becoming entangled in trash or mistaking plastic debris for food.

Now, new scientific studies show that PVC releases toxic chemicals after consumption, posing an additional threat to wildlife. Some endangered whales already show chronic levels of phthalate contamination.

Despite its status as one of the most hazardous consumer products ever created, PVC and its associated chemical additives are managed in much the same way as food scraps and grass clippings after disposal. This policy has already caused significant harm to public health, and there's no more time to waste.

That's why the Center for Biological Diversity, where I work, recently petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to classify PVC as hazardous waste and limit the amount of dangerous chemicals used in its production.

If approved, this proposal would result in better regulations for disposal and, ultimately, a reduction in the amount of plastic trash and toxic chemical additives contaminating communities across the country and polluting oceans worldwide.

It's obvious that stricter oversight is necessary.

Even before the industrial production of PVC began in the 1930s, researchers suspected that its primary building block, vinyl chloride, was extremely toxic. By the mid-1970s, the plastic industry admitted that this chemical had contributed to several worker deaths. The federal government now acknowledges that vinyl chloride is a human carcinogen -- but its production continues to increase along with rising demand for PVC.

Vinyl chloride isn't the only dangerous compound associated with PVC.

Manufacturers rely on a toxic cocktail of chemical additives to make this plastic more versatile. Soft PVC products -- like some rain boots, floor tiles and the squishy lining of screw-on bottle caps -- contain large quantities of phthalate plasticizers, which interfere with hormone regulation in wildlife and human beings.

These chemicals aren't permanently attached to PVC, so they naturally migrate into the environment during use and after disposal, posing a major risk to public health. In fact, some experts believe that nearly universal exposure to phthalates could be the leading cause of reproductive disorders in humans.

A growing body of scientific evidence shows that PVC is poisoning our communities and polluting our environment. Now, it's time for the federal government to take action.

From Our Partners