Healthy Building Network Releases Report on Chlorine Based Plastics in Construction Products

The Healthy Building Network has released phase one of a report on chlorine based plastics that are used in common building and construction products, such as pipes, roofing, flooring, adhesives, and more. It is intended to inform the efforts of building product manufacturers to reduce pollution in their supply chains.

“Chlorine and Building Materials: A Global Inventory of Production Technologies, Markets, and Pollution. Phase 1: Africa, The Americas, and Europe” is a plant-by-plant accounting of the production, use, and releases of chlorine and related pollution.

Chlorine is a key feedstock for a range of chemicals and consumer products, and the major ingredient of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic. The report includes details about the largest 86 chlor-alkali facilities and reveals their connections to 56 PVC resin plants in the Americas, Africa and Europe. (The second phase of this project will inventory the industry in Asia.) A number of these facilities, which are identified in the report, continue to use outmoded and polluting mercury or asbestos.

Demand from manufacturers of building and construction products now drives the production of chlorine, the key ingredient of PVC used in pipes, siding, roofing membranes, wall covering, flooring, and carpeting. It is also a feedstock for epoxies used in adhesives and flooring topcoats, and for polyurethane used in insulation and flooring.

“This report is a prerequisite to understanding the origins and life-cycle impacts of high-volume building materials such as polyvinyl chloride, and others including polyurethane, and epoxies. When we know better, we can do better to reduce the environmental and health impacts of this material through the supply chain,” says Jim Vallette, HBN research director and lead author of the report.

Among the findings:

  • In the U.S., the chlor-alkali industry is an industry that still uses asbestos, importing 480 tons per year on average for 11 chlor-alkali plants in the country (including seven of the twelve largest plants).
  • The only suppliers of asbestos to the chlor-alkali industry are Brazil (which banned its production, although exports continue for the moment) and Russia, whose Uralasbest mine is poised to become the sole source of asbestos once the ban in Brazil is in place.
  • The U.S. Gulf Coast is the lowest-cost region for production of chlorine and its derivatives. It is home to nine facilities that use asbestos technology, and some of the worst polluters including five of the six largest emitters of dioxin.
  • One Gulf Coast facility has been found responsible for chronic releases of PVC plastic pellets into the Gulf of Mexico watershed.
  • The U.S., Russia and Germany are the only countries in this report that allow the indefinite use of both mercury and asbestos in chlorine production.
  • The two largest chemical corporations, BASF and DowDuPont, have not announced any plans to phase out the use of mercury and asbestos, respectively, at their plants in Germany.
  • Chlor-alkali facilities are sources of rising levels of carbon tetrachloride, a global warming and ozone depleting gas, in the earth’s atmosphere.
  • More chlorinated pollution, such as dioxins and vinyl chloride monomer, is released from chlor-alkali plants that produce feedstocks for the PVC industry than from plants that produce chlorine for other uses.

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