Evil, Nasty, Bad Plastic

Last summer, my wife bought a little inflatable, plastic pool for our now 2 year old to splash around in. During last week’s triple digit temperatures, we had the best time sitting in the backyard splashing around in the wet while the world around us sizzled.

What caused me to get suspicious was when my brother-in-law mentioned that a similar pool had killed all the grass underneath it in a matter of hours. We all know that if you cover your lawn with something for a few days, the grass turns yellow and eventually dies. But a matter of hours ? He suspects that something may have leaked from the plastic pool and poisoned the grass.

Last night when I was dumping out the little pool (I try to use the water to water plants), I noticed the nasty plsticky smell from the water, and really started wondering what the chemistry of the pool water must be like, especially after letting the water sit in the pool in the sun for an afternoon. Of course, the pool is made from PVC ! We liked to think of PVC as the inert material that sewer pipes are made of. But tons of PVC are used in soft plastics that go into toys !

What exactly is PVC ? Polyvinyl chloride. You get a good introduction at wikipedia.org. I used to always think PVC was a product that lasted forever and never thought about any interaction of the plastic with the environment because where there is no weathering, corrosion, leaching, i.e. where nothing gets out, nothing gets polluted. On the surface, PVC may be just like that. But there is a number of environmental risks and clear impacts associated with PVC. If you burn it, you create dioxins. Not familiar with dioxin ? Here, from greenpeace.com: “TCDD, the most lethal form of the dioxin family, is a known human carcinogen and hormone disrupter and is recognised as the most toxic synthetic compound ever produced. All humans and animals now carry body burdens of TCDD and other dioxins.” – So why would you burn it ? Well, maybe if your house burns down and some of the insulations on your copper wires or all your sewer lines burn. Nice, huh ? Releases may also be associated with the production of PVC.

To make PVC nice and soft so that you can make rubber duckies out of it or clothing, you add plasticizers, phthalates. These have been shown to leach from the PVC product such as rubber duckies and sex toys. Nice, huh ? If you’ve ever been inside an Office Depot where the plasticky smell makes you feel like you’re inside a gas chamber, then you won’t be surprized to hear that PVC products also release plasticizer and additives by outgassing. Think of your new shower curtain or the smell in your new car. Yes, you’re breathing phthalates !

PVC is labeled as class 3 for recycling. But I’m reading that virtually no post-consumer PVC is actually recycled because it’s just too expensive. So where does all this PVC go ? To the landfill where it’s got plenty time and company from other nasty reactive chemicals to leach and leach and form a truly vicious witch’s brew.

Here is another quote from greenpeace.com: “Of all the plastics, PVC plastic or vinyl is the most environmentally damaging. Throughout its lifecycle it requires hazardous chemicals for production, releases harmful additives and creates toxic wastes. The disturbing fact is that its production is increasing worldwide despite the fact that safer, more feasible alternatives currently exist for almost all PVC products.”

On the Greenpeace website you also learn that not only are plasticizers added to PVC to make it nice and soft and cozy, but also heavy metals to make it nice and colorful and fungicides to prevent bad fungus from eating the sweet plasticizers ? Huh ?

So why, if all these side-effects are known and alternatives exist, do we produce so much PVC and make more and more things out of PVC ? The Greenpeace website states that the chemical industry has had so many substances and compounds pulled off the market and banned, they’re desperate for places to put their chlorine gas. So they’ve been pushing PVC production basically just to get rid of their chlorine. Ouch.

Here is a good summary document on PVC:


So why doesn’t anyone make a baby friendly splashy pool if alternatives to PVC exist ? I haven’t been able to find anything. Here is someone wondering the same thing about PVC splashy pools with a sobering but probably realistic answer. The only other suggestion I found was replacing the pool with a steel cattle water trough. Hey, I might actually do that.


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