Polyvinyl chloride

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Polyvinyl chloride
Density1380 kg/m3
Young's modulus (E)2900-3300 MPa
Tensile strengtht)50-80 MPa
Elongation @ break20-40%
Notch test2-5 kJ/m²
Glass temperature87 °C
Melting point212 °C
Vicat B185 °C
Heat Transfer Coefficient (λ)0.16 W/m.K
Linear Expansion Coefficient (α)8 10-5 /K
Specific heat (c)0.9 kJ/(kg·K)
Water absorption (ASTM)0.04-0.4
Price0.5-1.25 €/kg
1 Deformation temperature at 10 kN needle load
source: [1]
File:Nortown plastic pipe drywall.jpg
PVC pipes in use with intumescent firestops at Nortown Casitas, North York, Ontario.
Polyvinyl chloride

Polyvinyl chloride, (IUPAC Polychloroethene) commonly abbreviated PVC, is a widely used thermoplastic polymer. In terms of revenue generated, it is one of the most valuable products of the chemical industry. Globally, over 50% of PVC manufactured is used in construction. As a building material, PVC is cheap and easy to assemble. In recent years, PVC has been replacing traditional building materials such as wood, concrete and clay in many areas. Despite claims that PVC production negatively affects the natural environment and human health, it is still widely used.

There are many uses for PVC. As a hard plastic, it is used as vinyl siding, magnetic stripe cards, window profiles, gramophone records (which is the source of the term vinyl records), pipe, plumbing and conduit fixtures. The material is often used in Plastic Pressure Pipe Systems for pipelines in the water and sewer industries because of its inexpensive nature and flexibility. PVC pipe plumbing is typically white, as opposed to ABS, which is commonly available in grey as well as white.

It can be made softer and more flexible by the addition of plasticizers, the most widely used being phthalates. In this form, it is used in clothing and upholstery, and to make flexible hoses and tubing, flooring, to roofing membranes, and electrical cable insulation.


Polyvinyl chloride is produced by polymerization of the monomer vinyl chloride, as shown. Since a significant proportion of its mass is chlorine, creating a given mass of PVC requires less petroleum than many other polymers.

The polymerisation of vinyl chloride
The polymerisation of vinyl chloride


Polyvinyl chloride was accidentally discovered on at least two different occasions in the 19th century, first in 1835 by Henri Victor Regnault and in 1872 by Eugen Baumann. On both occasions, the polymer appeared as a white solid inside flasks of vinyl chloride that had been left exposed to sunlight. In the early 20th century, the Russian chemist Ivan Ostromislensky and Fritz Klatte of the German chemical company Griesheim-Elektron both attempted to use PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) in commercial products, but difficulties in processing the rigid, sometimes brittle polymer blocked their efforts. In 1926, Waldo Semon of B.F. Goodrich developed a method to plasticize PVC by blending it with various additives. The result was a more flexible and more easily processed material that soon achieved widespread commercial use.


Electric wires

PVC is commonly used as the insulation on electric wires; the plastic used for this purpose needs to be plasticized. In a fire, PVC-coated wires can form HCl fumes; the chlorine serves to scavenge free radicals and is the source of the material's fire retardance. While HCl fumes can also pose a health hazard in their own right, HCl breaks down on surfaces, particularly in areas where the air is cool enough to breathe, and is not available for inhalation.[2] Frequently in applications where smoke is a major hazard (notably in tunnels) PVC-free LSOH (low-smoke, zero-halogen) cable insulation is used. The applicable building code should be consulted to determine the type of electrical wires approved for the intended use.


Polyvinyl chloride is also widely used for producing pipes. In the water distribution market it accounts for 66 percent of the market in the US, and in sanitary sewer pipe applications, it accounts for 75 percent.[3] In February 2007, the California Building Standards Code was updated to approve the use of chlorinated polyvinyl chloride (CPVC) pipe for use in residential water supply piping systems. CPVC has been a nationally accepted material in the US since 1982; however, California has only permitted its use on a limited basis since 2001. The Department of Housing and Community Development prepared and certified an Environmental Impact Report resulting in a recommendation that the Commission adopt and approve the use of CPVC. The Commission's vote was unanimous and CPVC will be placed in the 2007 California Plumbing Code.[4]


In flat sheet form, Polyvinyl chloride is formed in a variety of thicknesses and colors. As flat sheets, PVC is often expanded to create voids in the material, providing additional thickness without additional weight and cost. Sheets are cut using saw and rotary cutting equipment (see CNC). PVC is also used to produce thin, colored, adhesive backed films referred to simply as vinyl. These films are typically cut on a computer controlled plotter. These sheets and films are used to produce a wide variety of commercial signage products.

Unplasticized polyvinyl chloride (uPVC)

File:Builder's tudorbethan.jpg
Modern "Tudorbethan" house with uPVC gutters and downpipes, fascia, decorative imitation "half-timbering", windows and doors.

uPVC or Rigid PVC is often used in the building industry as a low maintenance material, particularly in the UK, and in the USA where it is known as vinyl, or vinyl siding.[5] The material comes in a range of colours and finishes, including a photo-effect wood finish, and is used as a substitute for painted wood, most obviously for window frames and sills when installing double glazing in new buildings or to replace older single glazed windows. It has many other uses including fascia, and siding or weatherboarding. The same material has almost entirely replaced the use of cast iron for plumbing and drainage, being used for waste pipes, drainpipes, gutters and downpipes.[6]

Due to environmental concerns[7] use of PVC is discouraged by some local authorities[8] and in countries such as Germany and The Netherlands. This only concerns PVC rather than uPVC as it is the plasticizers in PVC that are the problem. uPVC does not contain these plasticizers. It is important to note that the PVC used by USA manufacturers of building components such as vinyl siding and vinyl windows use what the European community refer to as uPVC. They are one and the same when discussing these product groups. The use of modern impact modifiers offer great stability. The issues of migration and brittleness of the PVC compound are overcome.

Health and safety

Phthalate plasticizers

Many vinyl products contain additional chemicals to change the chemical consistency of the product. Some of these additional chemicals called additives can leach out of vinyl products. Plasticizers which must be added to make PVC flexible have been an additive of particular concern.

Because soft PVC toys have been made for babies for years, there are concerns that these additives leach out of soft toys into the mouths of the children chewing on them. In January 2006, the European Union placed a ban on six types of phthalate softeners, including DEHP (Diethylhexyl phthalate), used in toys (See directive 2005/84/EC). In the USA most companies have voluntarily stopped manufacturing PVC toys with DEHP and in 2003 the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) denied a petition for a ban on PVC toys made with an alternative plasticizer, DINP (diisononyl phthalate).[9] In April 2006, the European Chemicals Bureau of the European Commission published an assessment of DINP which found risk "unlikely" for children and newborns.[10]

Vinyl IV bags used in neo-natal intensive care units have also been shown to leach DEHP. In a draft guidance paper published in September 2002, the US FDA recognizes that many medical devices with PVC containing DEHP are not used in ways that result in significant human exposure to the chemical[2]. However, FDA is suggesting that manufacturers consider eliminating the use of DEHP in certain devices that can result in high aggregate exposures for sensitive patient populations such as neonates.

Other vinyl products, including car interiors, shower curtains, flooring, etc., initially release chemical gases into the air. Some studies indicate that this outgassing of additives may contribute to health complications, but this information is preliminary and further study is needed.

In 2004, a joint Swedish-Danish research team found a statistical association between allergies in children and indoor air levels of DEHP and BBzP (butyl benzyl phthalate), which is used in vinyl flooring.[11] In December 2006, the European Chemicals Bureau of the European Commission released a final draft risk assessment of BBzP which found "no concern" for consumer exposure including exposure to children.[12]

In November 2005, one of the largest hospital networks in the U.S., Catholic Healthcare West, signed a contract with B.Braun for vinyl-free intravenous bags and tubing.[13] According to the Center for Health, Environment & Justice in Falls Church, VA, which helps to coordinate a "precautionary" " PVC Campaign", several major corporations including Microsoft, Wal-Mart, and Kaiser Permanente announced efforts to eliminate PVC from products and packaging in 2005, others such as Target have continued to sell PVC and PVC packaged products believing that there is no hard evidence of harm.

According to an article on FOXNews.com (an often conservatively bias news agency), "PVC plastic has been used safely[citation needed] for more than 70 years in a variety of medical and commercial applications and humans. No reports of adverse human health effects have been reported from intravenous (IV) bags and medical tubing made with PVC, according to a 2002 report by the Food and Drug Administration."

In February 2007, the Technical and Scientific Advisory Committee of the US Green Building Council (USGBC) released its report on a PVC-related materials credit for siding, drain/waste/vent pipe, resilient flooring and window frames for the LEED Green Building Rating system.[14] The report concludes that "no single material shows up as the best across all the human health and environmental impact categories, nor as the worst."

Vinyl chloride monomer

In the late 1960s, Dr. John Creech and Dr. Maurice Johnson were the first to clearly link and recognize the carcinogenicity of vinyl chloride monomer to humans when workers in the polyvinyl chloride polymerization section of a B.F. Goodrich plant near Louisville, Kentucky, were diagnosed with liver angiosarcoma, a rare disease.[15] Since that time, studies of PVC workers in Australia, Italy, Germany, and the UK have all associated certain types of occupational cancers with exposure to vinyl chloride. The link between angiosarcoma of the liver and long-term exposure to vinyl chloride is the only one which has been confirmed by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. All the cases of angiosarcoma developed from exposure to vinyl chloride monomer, were in workers who were exposed to very high VCM levels, routinely, for many years.

A 1997 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report concluded that the development and acceptance by the PVC industry of a closed loop polymerization process in the late 1970s "almost completely eliminated worker exposures" and that "new cases of hepatic angiosarcoma in vinyl chloride polymerization workers have been virtually eliminated."[16]

According to the EPA, "vinyl chloride emissions from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), ethylene dichloride (EDC), and vinyl chloride monomer (VCM) plants cause or contribute to air pollution that may reasonably be anticipated to result in an increase in mortality or an increase in serious irreversible, or incapacitating reversible illness. Vinyl chloride is a known human carcinogen which causes a rare cancer of the liver."[17] EPA's 2001 updated Toxicological Profile and Summary Health Assessment for VCM in its Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) database lowers EPA's previous risk factor estimate by a factor of 20 and concludes that "because of the consistent evidence for liver cancer in all the studies...and the weaker association for other sites, it is concluded that the liver is the most sensitive site, and protection against liver cancer will protect against possible cancer induction in other tissues."[18]

A 1998 front-page series in the Houston Chronicle claimed the vinyl industry has manipulated vinyl chloride studies to avoid liability for worker exposure and to hide extensive and severe chemical spills into local communities.[19] Retesting of community residents in 2001 by the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) found dioxin levels similar to those in a comparison community in Louisiana and to the U.S. population.[20] Cancer rates in the community were similar to Louisiana and US averages.[21]


The environmentalist group Greenpeace has advocated the global phase-out of PVC because they claim dioxin is produced as a byproduct of vinyl chloride manufacture and from incineration of waste PVC in domestic garbage. The European Industry, however, asserts[citation needed] that it has improved production processes to minimize dioxin emissions. Dioxins are a global health threat because they persist in the environment and can travel long distances. At very low levels, near those to which the general population is exposed, dioxins have been linked[citation needed] to immune system suppression, reproductive disorders, a variety of cancers, and endometriosis. According to a 1994 report by the British firm, ICI Chemicals & Polymers Ltd., "It has been known since the publication of a paper in 1989 that these oxychlorination reactions [used to make vinyl chloride and some chlorinated solvents] generate polychlorinated dibenzodioxins (PCDDs) and dibenzofurans (PCDFs). The reactions include all of the ingredients and conditions necessary to form PCDD/PCDFs.... It is difficult to see how any of these conditions could be modified so as to prevent PCDD/PCDF formation without seriously impairing the reaction for which the process is designed." In other words, dioxins are an undesirable byproduct of polymerizing PVC and eliminating the production of dioxins while maintaining the polymerization reaction may be difficult. Dioxins created by vinyl chloride production are released by on-site incinerators, flares, boilers, wastewater treatment systems and even in trace quantities in vinyl resins.[22] The US EPA estimate of dioxin releases from the PVC industry was 13 grams TEQ in 1995, or less than 0.5% of the total dioxin emissions in the US; by 2002, PVC industry dioxin emissions had been further reduced by 23%.[23]

The largest well-quantified source of dioxin in the US EPA inventory of dioxin sources is barrel burning of household waste.[24] Studies of household waste burning indicate consistent increases in dioxin generation with increasing PVC concentrations.[25] According to the EPA dioxin inventory, landfill fires are likely to represent an even larger source of dioxin to the environment. A survey of international studies consistently identifies high dioxin concentrations in areas affected by open waste burning and a study that looked at the homologue pattern found the sample with the highest dioxin concentration was "typical for the pyrolysis of PVC". Other EU studies indicate that PVC likely "accounts for the overwhelming majority of chlorine that is available for dioxin formation during landfill fires."[26]

The next largest sources of dioxin in the EPA inventory are medical and municipal waste incinerators.[27] Studies have shown a clear correlation between dioxin formation and chloride content and indicate that PVC is a significant contributor to the formation of both dioxin and PCB in incinerators.[28]


The symbol, or 'SPI code', for polyvinyl chloride developed by the Society of the Plastics Industry so that items can be labelled for easy recycling is: File:Resin-identification-code-3-V.svg

The Unicode character for this symbol is U+2675 (HTML ♵).

Post-consumer PVC is not typically recycled due to the prohibitive cost of regrinding and recompounding the resin compared to the cost of virgin (unrecycled) resin.[citation needed]

Some PVC manufacturers have placed vinyl recycling programs into action, recycling both manufacturing waste back into their products, as well as post consumer PVC construction materials to reduce the load on landfills.

The thermal depolymerization process can safely and efficiently convert PVC into fuel and minerals, according to the company that developed it. It is not yet in widespread use.

A new process of PVC Recycling is being developed in Europe and Japan called texiloop®[citation needed]. This process consists of recovering PVC plastic from composite materials through dissolution and precipitation. It strives to be a closed loop system, recycling its key solvent and hopefully making PVC a future technical nutrient.


  1. A.K. vam der Vegt & L.E. Govaert, Polymeren, van keten tot kunstof, ISBN 90-407-2388-5
  2. Galloway, F.M. et al (1992) "Surface parameters from small scale experiments used for measuring HCl transport and decay in fire atmospheres", Fire Mater., 15:181-189
  3. (http://www.vinylbydesign.com/site/page.asp?CID=14&DID=15)
  4. (http://www.bsc.ca.gov/documents/PR07-02_final__pics.pdf)
  5. uPVC Windows, Doors
  6. Fascia, Guttering, Fascias, PVCu Soffits, Roofing, Cladding
  7. PVC Products - Greenpeace international
  8. Environmentally conscious buildings
  9. Phthalates and childerens toys,www.phthalates.org, undated (accessed 2 February,2007)
  10. http://www.dinp-facts.com/upload/documents/document2.pdf
  11. Bornehag; et al. (2004). "The Association Between Asthma and Allergic Symptoms in Children and Phthalates in House Dust: A Nested Case-Control Study". Environmental Health Perspectives. 112 (14): 1393–1397.
  12. http://blog.phthalates.org/archives/2007/01/more_good_news.html
  13. Business Wire (2005). "CHW Switches to PVC/DEHP-Free Products to Improve Patient Safety and Protect the Environment". Business Wire. Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help); Unknown parameter |day= ignored (help)
  14. https://www.usgbc.org/ShowFile.aspx?DocumentID=2372
  15. Creech and Johnson (1974). "Angiosarcoma of liver in the manufacture of polyvinyl chloride.". Journal of occupational medicine. : official publication of the Industrial Medical Association. 16 (3): 150–1. Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help)
  16. Epidemiologic Notes and Reports Angiosarcoma of the Liver Among Polyvinyl Chloride Workers – Kentucky, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site. 1997. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00046136.htm
  17. National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) for Vinyl Chloride Subpart F, OMB Control Number 2060-0071, EPA ICR Number 0186.09 (Federal Register: September 25 2001 (Volume 66, Number 186))
  18. EPA Toxicologica Review of Vinyl Chloride i Support of Informaiton on the IRIS. May 2000
  19. Jim Morris, "In Strictest Confidence . The chemical industry's secrets," Houston Chronicle. Part One: "Toxic Secrecy," June 28 1998, pgs. 1A, 24A-27A; Part Two: "High-Level Crime," June 29 1998, pgs. 1,A, 8A, 9A; and Part Three: "Bane on the Bayou," July 26 1998, pgs. 1A, 16A.]
  20. “ATSDR Study Finds Dioxin Levels in Calcasieu Parish Residents Similar to National Levels,” available at: http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/NEWS/calcasieula031506.html; “ATSDR Study Finds Dioxin Levels Among Lafayette Parish Residents Similar to National Levels,” available at: http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/NEWS/lafayettela031606.html; ATSDR Report: Serum Dioxin Levels In Residents Of Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana, October 2005, Publication Number PB2006-100561, available from the National Technical Information Services, Springfield, Virginia, phone: 1-800-553-6847/1-703-605-6244
  21. "Calcasieu Cancer Rates Similar to State/National Averages." News Release, State of Louisiana Dept. of Health and Hospitals. January 17, 2002
  22. Pat Costner etal, "PVC: A Primary Contributor to the U.S. Dioxin Burden; Comments submitted to the U.S. EPA Dioxin Reassessment," (Washington, D.C. Greenpeace U.S.A., February 1995
  23. US EPA, The Inventory of Sources and Environmental Releases of Dioxin-Like Compounds in the United States: The Year 2002 Update, May 2007
  24. US EPA2005
  25. Costner, Pat, (2005), "Estimating Releases and Prioritizing Sources in the Context of the Stockholm Convention", International POPs Elimination Network, Mexico.
  26. Costner 2005
  27. Beychok, M.R., A data base of dioxin and furan emissions from municipal refuse incinerators, Atmospheric Environment, Elsevier B.V., January 1987
  28. Katami, Takeo, et al. (2002) "Formation of PCDDs, PCDFs, and Coplanar PCBs from Polyvinyl Chloride during Combustion in an Incinerator" Environ. Sci. Technol., 36, 1320-1324. and Wagner, J., Green, A. 1993. Correlation of chlorinated organic compound emissions from incineration with chlorinated organic input. Chemosphere 26 (11): 2039-2054. and Thornton, Joe (2002) "Environmental Impacts of polyvinyl Chloride Building Materials", Healthy Building Network, Washington, DC.



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