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Feedback: notes from participants

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Sierra's January/February 2003 Let's Talk book and film selections
Book: The Great Unraveling: Losing Our Way in the New Century
Film: Blue Vinyl: A Toxic Comedy

Comments we've received

When: December 19, 2003
Where: Prescott, Arizona
Who: 8 friends of Doris Cellarius
What: Blue Vinyl

What did you like about the film or book?
One would assume this group of people with social and environmental concerns would not be overly shocked by the story, but they were quite surprised and moved by the information. The first comment was - "Wow - Things must be even worse now, with all Bush is doing." No one remarked that Blue Vinyl was funny, but we did discuss how hopeful it was that Judith was able to gently win her parents over to her side.

What were some highlights from your conversation?
There were comments about how we are surrounded by vinyl. They pointed at the floor - what's it made of? Probably vinyl tile. It was compared to asbestos...but worse, since it is in so many things. I had to remind them that the vinyl products are not as dangerous to consumers (unless they burn) as they are dangerous to those who manufacture them and dispose of them.

The next comment was "What chemical is next? What else do we use that is bad for the environment? The discussion moved to "what other threats do we have in our town?". No one had heard of the Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) where, because of the Community Right-to-Know law, all businesses that use certain amounts of toxics must report them.

At that moment, thinking of the LEPC, it occurred to me that most of the people I see at LEPC meetings are firemen, whose lives are endangered by fumes from burning plastic. I plan to talk with the LEPC about encouraging the community to promote the use of alternatives to vinyl.

We talked a lot about alternative building materials because several of the men are in construction - good jobs in a town that is sprawling with new developments. There were more questions than answers. How to make them affordable? How to make the vinyl manufacturer pay the costs to health and the environment? Who could you boycott, when it is everywhere?

From: Doris Cellarius

(Doris Cellarius is co-chair of the Sierra Club's Environmental Quality Strategy Team. The following is the fact sheet she handed out at her Prescott discussion.)

PVC is a problem material because it contains a lot of chlorine - (something like 48-50%) since vinyl is actually vinyl chloride made into a polymer. Vinyl chloride is a carcinogen that threatens workers who produce PVC. Second, in building fires, combustion of PVC create dioxins and furans, as well as huge amounts of toxic acid gas--HCl or hydrochloric acid. That's [HCl] which kills more people in fires in hotels and restaurants more than the CO or the smoke particles or dioxins when they do the autopsies and find the pathological evidence of HCl's severe damage to the respiratory system and the evidence that the victims bled to death due to severe HCl damage. PVC is everywhere and is commonly used in carpets, drapery, furniture, computers, and in insulating copper wires, etc. Probably tons of PVC were used in the World Trade Center buildings.

Chlorine is a necessary component for dioxins formation, whether in a manufacturing or a combustion process. Many of the dioxins-release sources on the EPA's national dioxins inventory are associated with chlorinated chemical manufacture. The United States has signed an international treaty, the Stockholm Convention, (the POPs Treaty) calling for the phaseout of this and other persistent pollutants.

About 42% of chlorine used in the U.S. is used for manufacture of PVC. About 5% of chlorine use is for bleaching pulp for paper products. About 23% of chlorine use is for manufacture of inorganic chemicals (like table salt) and for treating drinking water and waste water. These activities are relatively unlikely to be associated with dioxins.

Many people are switching to natural building materials. Plastic alternatives are somewhat better than PVC, if one intends to use plastic. - Examples are polyethylene and polypropylene. Neither polyethylene nor polypropylene contain any chlorine, so no worry about dioxins, furans or HCl emissions during fires. Polyethylene and polypropylene are fine for IV-tubing and IV-bags, and some hospitals have switched to them.

For information about how others are using this film to educate their neighbors about pollution prevention, and sources of safer building materials see the BLUE VINYL website.

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