Vinyl chloride is a substance many have not heard of, but most people have come into contact with it at some point in their lives. In fact, it is present in most homes, hiding within items that tend to include plastic elements. As a highly flammable and combustible substance that is a known carcinogen, there is much debate as to whether humans should be exposed to this substance, either at home or in the workplace. Since it is so cheap to produce, manufacturers heavily rely on vinyl chloride as a cost-effective business method for crafting their products. Despite its potential health hazards, there are also benefits to vinyl chloride, and the substance is highly regulated by government officials around the world.

pvc vinyl chloride tubes

What Is Vinyl Chloride?

Vinyl chloride was discovered by Justus von Liebig and Henri Victor Regnault in 1835. Vinyl chloride is a colorless organochloride that does not naturally occur. It is generally industrially-made for commercial purposes. It is predominantly manufactured in the United States, India, and China, and it is relatively inexpensive to make. Business sectors that most commonly utilize products with vinyl chloride include building and construction, health care, electrical, and agriculture.

Vinyl chloride has a sweet odor. It is also highly flammable, toxic, and carcinogenic. It is normally stored as a liquid. This substance is normally derived from one of three methods. Vinyl chloride can be derived from acetylene, ethelyne, or ethane, all three of which can be problematic and dangerous to produce. Making vinyl chloride from acetylene was almost exclusively used until the 1940’s.

When this substance enters the environment, liquid vinyl quickly evaporates, and small amounts can dissolve in water. However, when it breaks down in air, it turns into other substances that can be hazardous.

Items that Contain Vinyl Chloride

Vinyl chlorine can be found in a multitude of products due to its extreme versatility in PVC form. In fact, it is most commonly used to make polyvinyl chloride (PVC) found in plastic products. It is also used in tobacco smoke. Even household items contain PVC. Shower curtains, bottles, children’s toys, credit cards, clothing, sports equipment, and other everyday items contain PVC. PVC is also present in construction materials since it is generally viewed as a cost-effective way of producing required materials for building.

PVC is found in many health care items. Blister packs for pills and tablets, plastic tubing, containers for blood and urine samples, heart and lung bypass sets, inhalation masks, and surgical and examination gloves all tend to contain PVC.

PVC is also typically found in plastic packaging. It is also used in certain art and design products. For being such a potentially harmful product, PVC is certainly a prevalent resource in our daily lives. But just how dangerous is it when it is able to be used in common household items?

Dangers of Vinyl Chloride

There is currently debate as to how dangerous vinyl chloride can be for human beings. Individuals can be exposed to the substance by breathing in chemical releases from hazardous waste sites, plastics industries, and landfills where many items containing vinyl chloride end up getting dumped. People can also be exposed through breathing it in at their workplace or by drinking contaminated water.

Exposure to vinyl chloride is considered hazardous to human health. The he World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) lists vinyl chloride as a carcinogen. The release of dioxins resulting from the manufacture and incineration of PVC can cause cancer, birth defects, developmental and learning disabilities, diabetes, immune system disorders, and endometriosis. Damage can also be done to the liver, central nervous system, and reproductive system, as experiments on animal subjects have shown.

Workers who have suffered long-term exposure to vinyl chloride can develop issues with blood flow to their hands. This causes their hands to become painful and turn white when exposed to cold air. They also have a high risk for developing cancer in the liver, hands, lungs, and brain.

Are there Benefits for Vinyl Chloride?

Vinyl chloride has some benefits when used as PVC in products. Use of this substance reduces consumption of natural resources. Since the material is so durable, it does not break down easily over time like other resources. It does not get discarded as quickly as items made of less durable substances.

It also makes medical items cheaper to produce and, therefore, cheaper to sell, thereby granting more access for lower-income individuals. Medical equipment that uses PVC is highly durable. Tubing will not crack or develop kinks, and equipment is easy to sterilize.

Wires and cables are often coated in PVC since it is fire-resistant. This prevents deadly electrical accidents from occurring. It is also used in the manufacturing of automobiles in order to help prevent fatalities from car accidents.

Summing Up

If you’re concerned that vinyl chloride could be impacting your health, you can check packaging labels on household items to ensure that they do not contain PVC. Look for PVC-free alternatives which, while often a little bit more expensive, offer a safe alternative to PVC.

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