A fifth of 131 PVC products bought in the USA or Canada and tested by Greenpeace contained over 100 parts per million (ppm) lead. Roughly 10% contained over 1,000ppm lead, including one raincoat with 22,550ppm lead. Almost all the products tested also contained cadmium, though at lower levels.
At these levels, Greenpeace alleges, lead presents a real, and until now underrated, health risk. The 15 products found to contain over 600ppm would have been illegal in the USA if they had been made out of a regulated product like painted wood, it says. Chewing or swallowing a PVC product could lead to significant exposure. And accelerated ageing tests showed that the products will release lead dust over time.
Greenpeace's calculations suggest that use of common PVC products could lead to human ingestion of lead and cadmium in excess of US and European Union recommended or legal limits. The recommended limit on lead "bioavailability" (ingestion) in the US is 15 micrograms (ug) per day. In the European Union, a 1988 EU directive on toy safety limits lead and cadmium daily bioavailability "as an objective" to 0.7ug of lead and 0.6ug of cadmium.
According to Greenpeace, swallowing just 250mg of a tested phone cable, key ring or child's toy would lead to ingestion of above 20ug of lead. "In addition to all the problems with PVC during production and disposal, we now see that we have additives coming out during the use phase," Axel Singhofen of Greenpeace's EU unit told ENDS Daily today. "The message for us is that PVC is a poison."
Responding for the European PVC industry, Paul Jackson of the European Council of Vinyl Manufacturers (ECVM) told ENDS Daily that bioavailability limits in the EU toys directive should be adhered to. "If [they] are exceeded then it is completely wrong and the companies [concerned] should be prosecuted," he said.
In a separate statement issued today, the ECVM has called on the European standards body CEN to "issue further clear quality standards" for the manufacture of toys from PVC. Stabilisers such as lead and cadmium compounds are already regulated by "strict migration standards," it said, but there are currently no official standards for softeners such as phthalates. "We are confident that [official norms would] prove...that there are no health or other issues around PVC products for children," said ECVM director John Svalander.
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