Topic Editor: Nick Thorp
Lead Author: Steven G. Gilbert


PVC was accidentally discovered 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. Waldo Semon and the B.F. Goodrich Company developed a method in 1926 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.

Lifecycle of Pollution of PVC

Chlorine Production

Feedstock Production and Polymerization

Recycling and Disposal

All information in this section that does not have an endnote is from the following source:
Thornton, Ph.D., Joe. Environmental Impact of Polyvinyl Chloride Building Materials. Publication. Washington, D.C.: Healthy Building Netword, 2002.

Chemicals found in PVC

Hazardous Chemicals and their Impacts on Aquatic Ecosystems and the Environment

Greenpeace states that "additives (to PVC) are not bound to the plastic and leach out." 11

"PVC and PE pipes have increased contamination potential once organic chemicals have permeated. The organics cause the pipes to swell allowing a higher rate of diffusion." 12

In a laboratory study, small crustaceans fed phytoplankton that were cultured with silver, zinc, copper, and nickel, experienced negative impacts on their reproduction. 15

"Most heavy metals are effective at very low concentrations, so even low assimilation rates (reflected by small transfer factors) are sufficient to attain biologically significant or harmful concentrations (of fish)." 22







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11- "Building the Future." PVC Alternatives Database. Greenpeace. Web. 23 Jan. 2011. <>.
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