The 'Poison Plastic' Retailers Won't Talk About
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To watch an original animated short about PVC, hot off the presses, go HERE.
Twenty five years ago I was raising my family in Love Canal near Niagara Falls when I discovered that my home was sitting next to 20,000 tons of toxic chemicals. That shocking discovery spurred me and my neighbors to lead a three-year struggle to protect our families from the hazardous waste buried in our backyards. Our fight at Love Canal led to President Jimmy Carter announcing an Emergency Declaration, which moved 900 families from this hazardous area and signified the victory of our efforts.
Today we have learned that we cannot escape poisonous chemicals in our communities. They are not only in factories and toxic dumps, but in everyday household goods like shower curtains and cosmetics. One of today's most dangerous toxic offenders is PVC, the poison plastic, also known as vinyl.
Products made with PVC include some children's toys, shampoo bottles, lunch boxes, and home building materials. Many of these seemingly innocent items may pose serious health and environmental threats in production, at home, and in the trash, releasing dangerous chemicals linked to cancer and birth defects. When you smell that new plastic tablecloth, you are inhaling toxic fumes. When a baby chews on a new vinyl plastic toy, they could be ingesting harmful chemicals. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency put vinyl shower curtains to the test and found some alarming results: one new shower curtain can lead to elevated levels of indoor air toxics for over one month. Why is it that the problematic additives in PVC toys have been banned in Europe, but they're still sold in our country?
While the health and environmental dangers of PVC plastic have been well documented for decades, in recent years some fortune 500 companies have been waking up and starting to replace PVC with safer, healthier products. Almost one year ago, Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott announced the company was committed to, "replacing PVC packaging for our private brands with alternatives that are more sustainable and recyclable within the next two years." Other retailers and companies such as Microsoft, Nike, Ikea, H&M, and Johnson & Johnson have also committed to phasing out PVC in products and/or packaging. The economy is beginning to move toward safer, sustainable materials and indicates a trend that US businesses should pay attention to.
Unfortunately one major U.S. retailer, Target Corporation, hasn't been paying attention. While they may have the latest hip designs and colors, their aisles are filled with products made from dangerous chemicals linked to cancer. This mega-company has refused to respond to over 60 environmental organizations who have been urging them since March, 2006 to begin replacing these hazardous materials with safe alternatives.
That is why this Wednesday, October 11 over 20 Target stores nationwide will be facing concerned consumers demanding safer products for their families. On the same day a massive Internet campaign will be released at Pvcfree.org featuring the spoof video "Sam Suds and the Case of PVC, the Poison Plastic".
We hope that Target will do the right thing and phase out this poison plastic in favor of healthier alternatives and become a leader on this issue, as they have been on other environmental issues. In the meantime we can all use our consumer power to help shift the market away from PVC products by avoiding anything labeled "vinyl" or with the number "3" or the letter "V" in or under the classic recycling symbol.
Years from now I hope we can look back not only on our victory at Love Canal, but also at the elimination of PVC from common household products and packaging. Then we can all feel proud to know that we have left a safer and healthier world for our children.
Lois Gibbs is the founder and Executive Director of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ).