What is PVC: Debunking the Myths and Mysteries surrounding PVC
Posted by Sarah G
PVC, otherwise known as polyvinyl chloride, or simply vinyl, is one of the worlds most widely produced polymer plastics. It is used in everything from water pipes in cities, to bank cards, to water bottles, to fake leather, to vinyl records.
PVC was synthesized by accident in the 1870's in Germany, by a chemist named Eugen Bachmann. Although the plastic was initially too brittle to be of any real use, in 1926 B.F. Goodrich Company developed a method of plasticizing it. PVC quickly developed wide commercial use, even being used as a way to waterproof clothing and insulate wires for the military. By the 1950's, PVC pipes were used to carry water not only in Germany, but also in the United States, where PVC's many other uses were quickly brought to the booming post-war market. Today, PVC piping is essential to the construction industry. Non toxic, and resistant to light degradation, extreme temperatures and many corrosive chemicals, it's durability makes it an easy top pick.
PVC is made primarily by combining carbon, hydrogen, and chlorine, all of which can be sourced at a low cost as natural by-products of other industries. Although some of the chemicals used to make PVC are highly toxic on their own, the process of combining them through linking the individual molecules together (polymerisation) renders them stable and inert: completely harmless to living beings. PVC pipes are actually safer to use and easier to clean and maintain than metal pipes, which are much more susceptible to damage from rust, chemicals or extreme temperatures.
Unfortunately, during the 1970's when the PVC market was booming in America, not as much was known about the chemicals used to produce it, and VCM – or vynil chloride monomer, the unstable gaseous form of PVC – was linked to cases of liver cancer in factory workers. Luckily, by the end of the 1970's stricter regulations were put into place and there has not been a single case of cancer linked to VCM since! And again, once PVC is formed, VCM is rendered completely inert and non-toxic.
Although there are many myths surrounding PVC in all it's forms, most of the fear comes from the fact that most of us don't know anything about what PVC really is, or why its use is so widespread! The reality is that PVC is a fantastic product to use, and is a key component in the resilience and durability of the Vertical Organic Garden!