A new draft report from the U.S. Green Building Council’s PVC Task Group has found that the environmental and health impacts of PVC building products are no worse than those of alternative materials.

The draft report, which took nearly two years to complete, found that “the available evidence did not support a conclusion that PVC is consistently worse than alternative materials on a life cycle environmental and health basis”. There is, therefore, no justification for a credit in the environmental design rating system for “eliminating PVC or any particular material” it added.

“The findings of this review should put to bed some of the adverse environmental folklore that surrounds PVC,” Vinyl Council of Australia chief operating officer Sophi MacMillan says.

“It appears to be a thorough examination of PVC and its alternatives, emanating from the green building sector through a process including extensive public consultation and input.”

She says that PVC was wrongly discredited during the building of the Sydney Olympics and in some subsequent developments despite the fact that the available scientific evidence had not supported such arbitrary discrimination. “This work by the Green Building Council should pave the way for a reassessment of the treatment of PVC in Australia and the positive contributions it can make to sustainable buildings,” MacMillan says.

The US Task Group found that material-based credits that discourage the use of specific materials are “unnecessarily blunt instruments”. Its draft report noted that “with respect to a PVC-related credit, the available evidence indicates that for some product categories, such a simple credit could steer designers to use materials which performed worse over their life cycles with respect to the bulk of impact categories.”

The report’s findings are consistent with the conclusions of the European Commission’s recent report, Life Cycle Assessments of PVC and of Principal Competing Materials (2004) and reviews undertaken by the CSIRO in Australia in 1996, 1998 and 2001[1].

The US Green Building Council’s draft report, Assessment of Technical Basis for a PVC-related Materials Credit in LEED, was prepared by a technical working group which comprised experts on building materials, life cycle assessments and toxicology, but with no affiliation to the PVC industry.

The Task Group examined more than 2400 scientific reports and submissions and developed a methodology based on life cycle and risk assessments to compare PVC to alternative materials in a number of building applications (siding, drain-waste-vent pipe, resilient flooring and windows). The draft report is currently available for public comment until 15 February, before being finalised for adoption by the US Green Building Council’s Board.