Opponents lock horns over future of PVC

NGOs, local authorities, users, take on PVC industry at European Commission hearing

Supporters and detractors of PVC clashed yesterday at a Brussels public hearing organised by the European Commission to thrash out environmental question marks surrounding the plastic. Industry representatives accused campaigners of "spreading unjustifiable fears," while Greenpeace said manufacturers had "distorted the facts".

The hearing followed July's Commission green paper analysing PVC's environmental status, focusing on waste management and use of additives such as lead, cadmium and phthalates (ENDS Daily 26 July). The paper launched a process intended to lead to publication of a draft EU strategy on PVC early next year.

Industry speakers opened the event by criticising the green paper, saying it raised no concerns specific to PVC and focused too much on end-of-life aspects. "It does not take into account the characteristics of PVC, or include cost-benefit analysis of its lifecycle advantages," said Brigitte Dero of stabilisers' association ESPA.

Others extolled the benefits of a voluntary commitment presented by four EU associations in the PVC industry chain (ENDS Daily 26 May). Implementing this would obviate the need for regulation, according to Romain Ferrari of plastic converters' association EUPC.

But Greenpeace's Axel Singhofen dismissed the industry initiative as a "smokescreen pseudo-commitment" which would have little real impact. The tide among business users of PVC was turning against the polymer, he said.

Swedish furniture maker Ikea and state pharmacy outlet Apoteke said their PVC-reduction policies had resulted in large declines in PVC use. Apoteke spokesman Per Rosander said recent data from state chemicals inspectorate Kemi showed that the trend was a nation-wide one.

The afternoon session saw an uninterrupted succession of anti-PVC speakers from various NGOs, most focusing on dioxin emissions from PVC burning and use of phthalate softeners. The latter have already been the subject of EU action as relates to their use in baby toys. Pierre Neurohr of Health Care without Harm said use of the phthalate DEHP in PVC medical care devices presented a threat "as great or greater" than this.

But Adam Jones of medical device suppliers' organisation Eucomed said PVC and DEHP were the industry's "materials of choice" and any moves to restrict them would have a "catastrophic effect on health care." He attacked what he claimed had been a one-sided presentation of the concerns over PVC at the hearing. "Don't go away thinking you've heard the full debate," he said. "You have not."

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111, its PVC pages, a list of hearing speakers and EU environment commissioner Margot Wallström's speech; PVC industry joint initiative and voluntary commitment; Greenpeace toxics campaign, tel: +32 2 280 1400 and press release on Swedish PVC consumption; Health Care without Harm; Eucomed, tel: +32 2 772 2212.

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