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Polyvinyl chloride, better known as PVC or vinyl, is one of the most commonly used plastic polymers in the world. However, following a long-awaited settlement agreement with environmental advocates, EPA is now tasked with determining whether PVC should be regulated as a hazardous waste.

On May 4, 2022, EPA published notice of a proposed consent decree that would resolve allegations by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) that it unreasonably delayed in acting on a 2014 petition to list discarded PVC as hazardous waste under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Under the agreement, EPA must issue a tentative decision on classifying the material as hazardous waste by Jan. 20, 2023, and a final decision by April 12, 2024.

PVC is the most commonly used plastic in the building and construction industry due to its low cost and durability. It is a mainstay in building and construction materials—so much so that it is known as the “infrastructure plastic.” Industry estimates indicate that upwards of 70% of all PVC produced is used for building and construction. PVC pipe alone has been produced since the 1930s, when production of PVC first began to accelerate. The plastic is commonly found in windows, pipes, ductwork, roofing, flooring and cables. Outside of the building and construction industry, PVC is readily used to make children’s toys, medical devices, clothing, electronics, household goods, consumer packaging and many other products.

Approximately seven billion pounds of PVC are discarded each year in the United States, with experts anticipating those amounts will only increase in the near future. Additionally, PVC makes up a substantial portion of ocean litter, which already consists of as much as 80% lightweight and durable plastic trash. A significant portion of discarded PVC products are attributed to the building and construction industry.

Some experts believe PVC may cause health problems, including reproductive harm, abnormal brain development, obesity, liver damage and cancer. CBD has argued for its regulated disposal for nearly a decade, asserting that it is toxic to human health, wildlife and the environment, particularly after its disposal, when CBD further asserts that harmful components may leach out of PVC and contaminate the surrounding environment.

CBD’s petition not only asks that PVC be regulated as a hazardous waste at the initial chemical manufacturing stage but also at the stage of finished materials and products. This could have severe consequences for industries like building and construction that use and discard large amounts of PVC on a regular basis. If EPA proceeds with listing PVC as a hazardous waste, it will be tasked with developing a comprehensive framework for regulating its safe use, storage and disposal. Common materials, such as discarded PVC drill cuttings and leftover PVC pipe and flooring, would likely be regulated as hazardous waste.

Public comments on the proposed consent decree were due by June 3, 2022.


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