A new report released Tuesday by a group of U.S. environmental advocacy organizations cautioned against the health risks posed by the use of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics in drinking water pipes and urged officials against the use of the material, Emily Le Coz reports for USA Today.
The report, released by Beyond Plastics, Environmental Health Sciences, and the Plastic Pollution Coalition, highlights the potential health risks associated with using PVC in community drinking water pipes.
PVC, which is made with vinyl chloride — a known carcinogen and endocrine disruptor — has become a popular, cost-effective option for communities replacing old drinking water pipes, especially lead pipes and service lines.
In 2021, the Biden Administration allocated $15 billion through the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Drinking Water State Revolving Fund for nationwide lead service line replacement projects. The report criticizes EPA for not issuing guidance on the appropriate piping materials to use for these projects, leading many to choose PVC, unaware of potential hazards.
According to Judith Enck, former regional EPA administrator and president of Beyond Plastics, the report raises concerns about chemicals in PVC pipes leaching into drinking water, affecting human health. Instead of PVC or chlorinated polyvinyl chloride, the report suggests communities use safer, albeit more expensive, alternatives like stainless steel or copper.
Aside from the health risks associated with PVC chemicals leaching into water supplies, the report also highlighted the various health and environmental consequences involved in the production of vinyl chloride, a crucial component of PVC.
During a virtual press conference, Enck stressed that the perceived low cost of plastics is deceptive, as the price is paid "widely and for decades through healthcare costs and tax dollars."
Despite the rising global PVC pipe market due to increased demand in water, sewage, and irrigation projects, several American communities are opting for alternatives for their lead service line replacements. Cities like Troy and Rochester, New York have chosen copper and cross-linked polyethylene pipes for their replacement projects.
"We only use copper, because copper is tried and true," said Frank Sainato, deputy director of public information for Troy, New York. "It may cost more, but public safety is always worth the extra expense."
The Uni-Bell PVC Pipe Association, a nonprofit that claims to be the "authoritative source of information on PVC water, sewer, and reclaimed water pipes," declined to comment on the report's recommendation against using PVC pipes for lead service line replacements.
Mike Schade, program director at environmental health research and advocacy organization Toxic-Free Future, warned that communities around the production facilities of vinyl chloride "[bear] the brunt of these harmful exposures" and are disproportionately low-income and minority. Schade warned that PVC pipes, like lead, are toxic, and urged EPA to ban local and state governments from using PVC for replacing lead service lines. (Le Coz, USA Today, 4/19)
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