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Killing me softly with…PVC

Final installment of a series examining the impacts of a “dewatering system” on an eco-system. The series began with “We have met the enemy and he is us” This post introduces the topic of the impacts of a “dewatering system” on the infrastructure of a city. Part II “It’s all related” continues the discussion with the impacts on water and rivers. Part III of the series “What watt?” looks at the direct and indirect energy use resulting from the installation of the system and the resulting CO2 emissions.

PVC or Polyvinyl Chloride seems to be everywhere these days. It’s in everything from electric wires, to toys, to portable electronic devices and of course pipes. The “dewatering system” installed underneath the new 1,000 Marriott Hotel in downtown Indianapolis consists of almost 5,000 feet of PVC pipes. These pipes are used to gather the naturally occurring groundwater and funnel it to the sump basins where it is then pumped into the Indianapolis sewer system.

PVC has been the subject of a lot of attention since its first commercial uses in the 20’s and 30’s. Throughout its lifecycle (manufacturing, use, and disposal), it has been linked to various health issues including cancer, birth defects and reproductive impairment. Many of the environmental and health issues stem from the additives used to soften the normally rigid material.

During the manufacturing process workers exposed to the vinyl chloride face an increased risk of cancer of various types. Since the link between the vinyl chloride and the cancer in workers was discovered in the 1970’s, changes in the manufacturing process have virtually eliminated the exposure to the workers. Virtually eliminated…I don’t know about you, but virtually eliminated does not make ME feel warm and fuzzy, nor does it make me want to go to work in one of those factories. However, the danger does not stop at the factory doors. The EPA found “vinyl chloride emissions from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), ethylene dichloride (EDC), and vinyl chloride monomer (VCM) plants cause or contribute to air pollution that may reasonably be anticipated to result in an increase in mortality or an increase in serious irreversible, or incapacitating reversible illness. Vinyl chloride is a known human carcinogen that causes a rare cancer of the liver.”

Another problem with PVC is its tendency to leach and off-gas its chemicals. Leaching is a process by which the carcinogens and other poisons transfer to other things that come in contact with them. This was discovered to be a significant problem in such things as soft toys that would be chewed on by infants and even in (sorry mom) some adult “toys” as well. This has led to bans on various additives in some products. Studies have shown that chemicals in the PVC can even leach into water as it moves through a pipe. Off-gassing, is the process in which these poisons are released into the air. You know that new car smell? Yep, you guessed it…off-gassing! NOT a good thing. This has led to various manufacturers (Toyota, Nissan, Microsoft and others) to eliminate PVC from their products. It has also led to retailers either reducing the number of PVC products they carry or eliminating them altogether.

Finally, disposal…products made from PVC are very difficult to recycle. Since they are made up of various additives, the process to break down the material into useful components is costly, inefficient and only so successful. Most of the products made with PVC end up in being disposed of by the consumer, either by burning it with their trash, or throwing it away in their trash, where it might go to a municipal incinerator or to a landfill. What is significant about this is the fact that when burned, PVC releases all kinds of toxic chemicals into the air, like hydrogen chloride and dioxins. (Do you know how common landfill fires are?)

If all these things are wrong with PVC, why is it still in use? The answer is simple…it’s CHEAP! Human Health vs. the Dollar…now THAT discussion is a whole other BLOG!


So dear reader, I hope you have stuck with me through this series of articles. I hope they underscore the synergistic nature of our environment and the need to consider ALL impacts when trying to solve an issue. What first looks like the fast, easy, and inexpensive way out may prove to be just the opposite. Finally, I hope they inspire you to get involved in your community by asking why things are done they way they are done and seeking better and better ways to live on this planet without killing it (and ourselves).



0 replies
  1. Lynne
    Lynne says:

    I hope this final installment didn’t mean the final installment of “Rivers of Thought”. I appreciate being educated from your blog!

  2. Lynne Stacey
    Lynne Stacey says:

    Question for you, have you done any research regarding medicines entering our waterways? We would like to start some sort of drug redistribution program with donations going to those in need, rather than flushing unused medicines and poisoning our drinking water.
    Lynne Stacey


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