Polyvinyl chloride and the chemicals used to make it are thought to be
linked to birth defects and cancers. So activists are urging companies
to stop using the plastic. America’s 6th largest retailer Target was
recently handed 10,000 signatures at its annual shareholders
meeting. The petition urges the company to phase out the use of PVC
plastic in the products it sells. Lisa Ann Pinkerton reports:
Polyvinyl chloride and the chemicals used
to make it are thought by some to be linked to
birth defects and cancers. The petition was
delivered to the annual shareholders meeting.
Lisa Ann Pinkerton has more:
In white hazmat suits and dust masks, about 30 protesters chant on the street in front of the new Target store.
It’s the site of this year’s shareholder meeting
and one of those protesters is Brad Melzer, a biology professor at Lake Erie
College in Ohio. But Melzer’s not shaking a protest sign right now. Instead, he’s trying to keep his infant
son shaded and cool in the noon-day sun. As little Winston lounges in a stroller, sucking on a bottle, Melzer says he’s
here today because he’s read about PVC plastic and its possible toxicity to
“To be honest, I don’t even know if this nipple has PVC in it. He could already be
ingesting these things.”
Protests like this one are happening simultaneously in 200 locations across the country,
but in Cleveland, protesters have turned in a petition with 10,000 signatures urging Target
to stop stocking its shelvesproducts containing polyvinyl chloride, or PVC.
Not too far away from the Melzers, is Doctor Cynthia Bearer of Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital, and she chats with a
woman holding a protest sign reading “Way off Target with Toxic Toys.”
Bearer’s main concern is chemicals called pthalates, which help soften PVC plastic. The
most common is known as DEHP. Bearer says the chemicals may leach from teething
rings, shower curtains and packaging, and put young children at risk:
“Pthalates are known to be endocrine disrupters. They interact with the thyroid
And they can cause abnormalities in infants, she says, including reproductive
“So we can actually measure health effects, particularly on male infants in terms of their
sexual development at the time of birth from exposure to pthalates.”
Like Dr. Bearer and Brad Melzer, some of the protesters are science professionals.
Some are just concerned parents and others are advocates for children. Maureen Swanson is with the Learning Disabilities Association of America. She says the development of children’s brains might be impaired by exposure
to chemicals in PVC. She says even if science can’t pinpoint right now why 1 in 6
children suffer from learning disabilities, something needs to be done. She says the burden on America’s schools is growing:
“The percentage of school funding that has to go to help these kids who have learning
and developmental disabilities, then that impacts the school’s ability to fund other
Some precautions have been made to reduce exposure to some of the PVC-related chemicals.
The US Food and Drug Administration has advised against using DEHP in medical
devices, and the Environmental Protection Agency has listed it as a probable carcinogen,
but the government doesn’t bar the use of DEHP in any product.
Even without the ban on the chemicals, 53 companies, including Target’s largest competitor, Wal-Mart, have begun phasing
out the products that contain PVC. Target Spokeswoman Carolyn Brookter says her company has some options it’s working on,
but it’s reluctant to set a time table for phasing out PVC. But she says that doesn’t mean that Target isn’t taking the
“We’re talking to out buyers, we’re talking to our venders and we’re asking them to look
into some alternatives that we have.”
If Target doesn’t move on the PVC issue, new dad Brian Melzer
says he’ll be left with a difficult shopping dilemma:
“I don’t like shopping at Wal-Mart at all. But… if Target continues its practices of not phasing
out PVCs. Yeah, then definitely I would choose one of their competitors, and if it had to
be Wal-Mart, I guess it would have to be Wal-Mart.”
However, at this point, Target Spokeswoman Brookter doesn’t think the company will
lose business on this single issue.
For the Environment Report, I’m Lisa Ann Pinkerton.