EHH week 04: avoiding PVC

To reduce the toxicity of our work, we are systematically avoiding materials that are considered to be harmful to humans and the environment.  We even oiled the concrete forms with olive oil instead of the typical diesel oil.  It is surprising, and sad, how common these toxic chemicals are in buildings and it takes a lot of diligence to avoid them.  This post is a story of mostly victories but also a defeat.

PVC (polyvinyl chloride) is a plastic used to make many, many products because it is cheap and durable.  But its manufacture generates chemicals such as dioxins, pthalates, lead, mercury, and vinyl chloride monomer that cause cancer, harm the nervous system, and damage reproduction.  Worse, most of these chemicals are PBTs (persistent bioaccumulative toxins).  PBTs never seem to go away, and are now found in the breast milk of humans worldwide, and even in the tissues of polar bears and penguins.

We have worked hard to find PVC-free alternatives, starting with the site utilities.  The underslab plumbing pipe is ABS, the footing drain pipe is CPEP (polyethylene), and the sanitary sewer pipe is cast iron.  In all cases, the subcontractors arrived at the job site with PVC in their trucks, and Model Remodel had to send them back for an alternative.

We did end up using PVC for buried conduit, however.  The only legal alternatives are galvanized steel, which the electric utility rejected, or HDPE, which would have delayed the project for 6 weeks.