Our Health and PVC – What’s the Connection?


 

For much of the time when children’s bodies and intellect are developing, they are spending their time inside a school. Healthy schools free from toxins that damage development are therefore critical to children’s health and well-being. However, our nation's schools are in trouble, and many are actually a threat to our children's health and ability to learn. An emerging toxic plastic of concern, polyvinyl chloride (PVC or vinyl), is used widespread in schools across the nation.

Children More At Risk From Toxic Chemicals

Children are not "little adults" - their developing brains and bodies, their metabolism and behaviors make them uniquely vulnerable to harm from toxic chemicals.

Health Problems Suffered by Children On the Rise

Increasingly, children are being found to be hyperactive, slow to learn, and disruptive in school. The number of children in special education programs classified with learning disabilities increased 191% from 1977 to 1994ii. Asthma is a leading reason for school absenteeism and the number one chronic childhood illnessiii. One in a hundred American children has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD)iv. 8,000 American children are diagnosed each year with cancerv , and the incidence of cancer in children jumped 26% between 1975 and 1998vi. The incidence of testicular cancer in young men has increased by 60% and the incidence of hypospadias (abnormal positioning of the opening of the urethra on the penis) in newborn boys doubled from 1968 to 1993vii. These rising trends in toxic-related childhood illnesses indicate the urgent need to eliminate children's exposure to toxins in all areas where children learn, play and live.

Chemicals released by the polyvinyl chloride (PVC or vinyl) plastic lifecycle such as Dioxins and phthalates have been linked with many of these diseases. viiiEven worse, PVC building products, school and office supplies are widespread in our nation’s schools.

PVC and Toxic Chemicals in Our Babies and Bodies

In recent years, a growing body of scientific evidence has found that toxic chemicals released by the PVC lifecycle are trespassing into our bodies.

PVC and Asthma – Are Schoolchildren, Teachers, and Custodians at Risk?

Asthma is a serious, sometimes life-threatening respiratory disease that affects 7 million American children and 16 million adultsxx . An average of one out of every 13 school-age children has asthma. In fact, asthma is a leading cause of school absenteeism: 14.7 million school days are missed each year due to asthmaxxi. In recent years, a number of studies have found a correlation between phthalates emitted from PVC building products and asthma:

Learning and Developmental Disabilities and PVC

According to recent studies, the incidence of learning and developmental disabilities appears to be rising, affecting about one in six children in the U.S. under the age of 18xxviii. Many factors – heredity, gene expression, social environment, nutrition and chemical contaminants – contribute to brain development in complex ways. Chemical contaminants, however, have historically been the least researched and are the most preventable. Recent research also shows that the developing fetus and children are particularly vulnerable to environmental exposures. Given this, protecting children from exposures to neurotoxicants starting as early as fetal development is an essential public health measure if we are to help prevent further increases in LDDsxxix. Additionally according to the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, “students with disabilities are a special “at risk” population for the harmful effects of exposures to environmental hazards at schoolxxx.” A number of chemicals released by the PVC lifecycle have been linked with or have been shown to cause learning and developmental disabilities. These include Dioxins xxxi, xxxii, Leadxxxiii , and Mercuryxxxiv . Preliminary research suggests phthalates may also be linked to learning and developmental disabilitiesxxxv. A study published in 2009 found a statistically significant link between PVC flooring and autism spectrum disorder. The study found that children who live in homes with vinyl floors, which can emit phthalates, are twice as likely to have autismxxxvi.

Is PVC Plastic Making us Fat?

Obesity is a serious health concern for children and adolescents, making children at risk for health problems during their youth and as adults. The prevalence of obesity has increased dramatically in recent years. For children aged 6-11, prevalence increased from 6.5% to 17.0%xxxvii. While exposure to toxic chemicals is not the primary cause of obesity, the latest scientific studies suggest that certain chemicals may contribute to obesityxxxviii. PVC chemicals that have been linked to obesity include hormone-disrupting phthalatesxxxix and organotinsxl. One new study examining organotins found that, “developmental or chronic lifetime exposure to organotins may therefore act as a chemical stressor for obesity and related disordersxli.” Another study found that exposure to phthalates may be linked with childhood obesityxlii. Additionally, exposure to Dioxins have been linked to Diabetes xliii,xliv.

Breast Cancer and PVC – What’s the Connection?

Not counting skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, and is on the rise. Incidence rates in the United States increased by more than 40 percent between 1973 and 1998. A woman's lifetime risk of breast cancer is now one in eightxlv. According to the Breast Cancer Fund, “no more than 10 percent of breast cancers are genetic, and science points to toxic chemicals and radiation as factors in the sharp rise of breast cancer incidencexlvi.” A number of the cornerstone chemicals used and released by the PVC lifecycle into our environment have been found to cause or may be linked with breast cancer. These include vinyl chloridexlvii , Dioxinsxlviii , and phthalatesxlix . For example:

Reproductive Health Problems and PVC

Across the country, reproductive health problems are on the rise. Fertility problems, miscarriages, preterm births, early puberty, and birth defects are all up. Women under 25 and women between 25 and 34 have reported an increasing number of fertility problems over the last several decades. Reproductive health problems aren’t limited to women. Average sperm count appears to be steadily declining, and there are rising rates of male genital birth defects such as hypospadias, a condition in which the urethra does not develop properlyliv. At the same time, scientific researchers are finding that exposure to toxic chemicals may cause many of these disorders. Toxic chemicals released by the PVC cycle associated with these disorders include the endocrine disrupting phthalateslv and Dioxins. These chemicals interfere with the body’s natural hormones and can scramble messages that natural hormones transfer between cells. Exposure to these chemicals before birth may possibly increase the chance of reproductive health problems. There may be no other plastic than PVC that releases as many reproductive toxicants during its lifecycle.

 

What Can I Do? Take Action for Healthy PVC-Free Schools

There’s some good news! Safer and cost-effective alternatives are already available for virtually every PVC product on the market. Here’s how you can help today:

 

References

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