As mentioned on Inhabitat’s Green Building 101 design guide, PVC has been repeatedly linked to many health concerns. So, you may ask yourself, why isn’t it a subject of the supposedly comprehensive LEED certification criteria? That is the question that the LEED steering committee recently asked the US Green Building Council Technical and Scientific Advisory Committee (TSAC) to investigate further. And the results, while mixed, point to a definitive answer: PVC, when ranked throughout its life cycle, is consistently found as one of the worst materials for cancer related impacts.
The report investigated the following question: “For the applications studied, does the available evidence indicate that PVC-based materials are consistently among the worst of the alternative materials studied in terms of environmental and health impacts?” And without a doubt, PVC showed itself as the most harmful material to human health, specifically in regards to cancer-related impacts. It becomes even more harmful when considering its end-of-life disposal, which in most cases includes burning the material in landfills. The report also found that in at least three of the four products tested, PVC could be considered better than some of the alternatives, but it is by far not the best. The exception to this was the use of vinyl sheeting in resilient floors, where the environmental impact of PVC far outweighed any of its alternatives, and was shown to be the worst option of them all.
While the TSAC decided against providing a LEED credit for the reduction of PVC in buildings, this was not done due to the benign properties of the material, but rather, due to the fact that by reducing its use, a designer may be led into other more harmful products for the environment. The TSAC recommends further research in establishing credits for LCA and risk assessment to address both the environment and human health issues. Meanwhile, you may be interested to know, Australia’s Green Building Council does offer a credit for PVC minimization.