But thankfully, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to begin regulating the host of toxins released from PVC plants by July 29, 2011.
EPA agreed to the deadline as part of a settlement reached between the agency, Sierra Club and community groups in Louisiana: Mossville Environmental Action Now (MEAN) and Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN). The nonprofit environmental law firm Earthjustice represented the groups in the lawsuit.
Each year, PVC plants pump some 500,000 pounds of vinyl chloride -- a known human carcinogen -- and many other toxins into the atmosphere. In spite of the documented effects of these cancer-causing chemicals, the PVC industry's air emissions have remained largely unregulated for decades.
Mossville, Louisiana, with its four vinyl production facilities, including two major vinyl chloride manufacturers, is considered the unofficial PVC capital of America. Mossville residents Edgar Mouton and Dorothy Felix have spent much of the past decade fighting to protect their families from the cancer-causing chemicals raining down upon their community. Pollutant levels in the Mossville community are three times the national average.
"We live among chemicals that leach into our water, our food, our children's bodies," said Mr. Mouton, a retired chemical plant employee. "It's affected our livelihood in much too many ways with folks being diagnosed with cancer and other diseases. We're ecstatic that EPA has answered our calls for help and decided monitor the toxins that are pumped out of these plants."
Louisiana is home to six of the nation's 24 plants manufacturing polyvinyl chloride, commonly known as PVC or vinyl. Six more plants are located in Texas. The remaining plants are found in New Jersey, Delaware, Illinois, Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama, Michigan and Oklahoma.
"The PVC facilities in Baton Rouge and on the west bank of the Mississippi River across from Baton Rouge are having extensive human health impacts on community members living in the shadow of these PVC industrial facilities," said Marylee Orr, executive director of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network. "Limiting plant emissions is absolutely necessary for the welfare of all residents living near these plants."
"This is the first step in preventing dangerous toxins from destroying communities," said Earthjustice attorney Katie Renshaw. "We are hopeful that EPA will finally give residents their right to clean air and water by issuing a real limit on PVC plant emissions."
The Clean Air Act requires the Environmental Protection Agency to set emission standards for each hazardous air pollutant PVC plants emit. But in 2002, the Bush EPA decided to set standards for just one: vinyl chloride.
This left plants' emissions of dioxins, chromium, lead, chlorine, and hydrogen chloride -- substances associated with a wide variety of serious adverse health effects including cancer -- entirely unchecked. EPA took no action to issue a new lawful standard until environmental groups, represented by Earthjustice, filed a lawsuit which eventually resulted in today's court settlement.
PVC is used in a range of plastic products from vinyl siding, plumbing, carpet backing, and appliances to raincoats and seat covers. The industry is projected to grow in coming years, but several manufacturers have come under fire in the past for irresponsible practices. Among them:
- PVC manufacturer Formosa accidentally released 8,000 pounds of vinyl chloride into the atmosphere from its Baton Rouge, La. plant in 2003.
- In 2004, the Keysor-Century plant in Saugus, CA paid $4 million in penalties in 2004 for lying about the high levels of carcinogens it was releasing into the air.
- A federal safety board found PVC manufacturer Formosa, Inc. did not do enough to prevent a 2004 explosion that killed five workers at its Illiopolis, Ill. plant.
- In October 2005, a Formosa employee struck a liquid propylene line with a forklift at the firm's plastics and chemicals plant in Point Comfort, Texas. That accident caused a fire that burned for five days and injured 12 people.
Map showing the locations of PVC plants nationwide:
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