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Legal Agreement Forces EPA to Assess Toxicity of Plastics

WASHINGTON -

The Environmental Protection Agency will analyze the toxic effects of polyvinyl chloride, commonly referred to as “PVC” or “vinyl”, as the result of a legal agreement reached today with the Center for Biological Diversity.

PVC is one of the most widely used forms of plastic, and about 7 billion pounds of PVC is discarded every year in the United States. Yet numerous studies have found it is highly toxic to human health and the environment.

As a result of today’s agreement, the EPA will have nine months to determine whether discarded PVC should be regulated as “hazardous waste” under federal law. Canada began regulating plastic as a toxic substance in May.

“We hope this is the federal government’s first step toward acknowledging the toxic legacy of PVC, and ultimately leads to the end of its production,” said Emily Jeffers, an attorney at the Center. “Scientists have been telling us for years that PVC is the most environmentally damaging type of plastic. Yet we discard billions of pounds of PVC every year in the United States, in much the same way we throw away orange rinds and grass clippings. That doesn’t make sense, and it’s dangerous.”

PVC is found in children’s toys, clothing, consumer packaging, building materials, electronics and many other household goods. It releases toxic chemicals and carcinogens, including dioxin and phthalate plasticizers, into the air, water and food web at every stage of its life cycle.

Among the human health risks associated with exposure to PVC and its additives are reproductive harm, hormone disruptions, abnormal brain and reproductive development, obesity, insulin resistance and damage to the liver and other organs.

Today’s agreement is the result of a lawsuit filed in federal court in Washington, D.C. in August 2021. The suit alleged that the EPA violated the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act by ignoring a rulemaking petition about the harmful nature of PVC. The Center petitioned the agency in 2014 to regulate PVC as hazardous waste, citing numerous scientific studies.

As a result of today’s agreement, EPA will make a tentative decision regarding the classification of discarded PVC as hazardous waste by January 2023, solicit comments from the public, and publish a final determination in early 2024.

If PVC is ultimately categorized as hazardous waste, the EPA would have to develop a comprehensive framework to ensure its safe treatment, storage and disposal.

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At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature — to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters and climate that species need to survive. 

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