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#616 - PVC & Dioxin: Enough Is Enough, 16-Sep-1998

Shintech, the Japanese chemical company, has been trying since 1996 to
locate 3 factories and an incinerator next to homes and schools in the
small community of Convent in southern Louisiana. (See REHW #615.)
Convent residents and other Louisiana activists are fighting the
proposed industrial complex, which would manufacture 1.1 billion pounds
of PVC plastic (better know as "vinyl") each year. They argue that
Louisiana authorities would violate federal civil rights laws if they
licensed the Shintech plant in a predominantly African-American
community where pollution is already making people sick. The outcome of
this civil rights battle will set important legal precedents.

There is no reason to believe that Shintech will bring economic
prosperity to the Convent area. The community already has a variety of
high-tech toxic industries, yet 40% of its residents live below the
poverty line.[1] According to a representative of the Louisiana
Chemical Association, 99% of industrial plant systems are now computer
controlled so chemical plants are highly automated and the few plant
operators who have jobs must have computer skills, as well as a good
working knowledge of physics and chemistry. Like most of Louisiana,
Convent and St. James Parish have few residents with the skills
necessary to work in the petrochemical industry. There are only 17
African Americans in St. James Parish who qualify as engineering
technicians.[2] (In Louisiana, a county is called a parish.)

Shintech's controller Dick Mason has dangled the promise of 165
permanent jobs and $500,000 for job training in St. James Parish.
However, neither Shintech or local officials have taken any steps to
guarantee that residents of St. James Parish or even Louisiana will be
hired. Although it is typical for governments to require a percentage
of local hires in exchange for tax breaks, Louisiana officials have
agreed to give Shintech $130 million in tax breaks without setting any
terms that directly benefit Louisiana citizens. For every permanent job
offered by Shintech, Louisiana taxpayers will subsidize the corporation
with nearly $800,000 in tax breaks.[3]

As the world's largest user of chlorine, the PVC industry creates
unique dangers that other industries (including most other plastics
industries) avoid. By its own admission Shintech would release nearly
600,000 pounds of toxic chemicals into the air per year (out of a total
of nearly 3 million pounds of air pollutants the plant would emit
annually), and would pour nearly 8 million gallons of toxic waste water
into the Mississippi River each day.[4]

One of the principal pollutants from Shintech would be vinyl chloride.
According to the EPA, "vinyl chloride emissions from polyvinyl chloride
(PVC), ethylene dichloride (EDC), and vinyl chloride monomer (VCM)
plants cause or contribute to air pollution that may reasonably be
anticipated to result in an increase in mortality or an increase in
serious irreversible, or incapacitating reversible illness. Vinyl
chloride is a known human carcinogen which causes a rare cancer of the
liver."[5] Shintech's Convent plant would be one of the largest PVC,
EDC, and VCM production operations in the world.

A recent front-page series in the HOUSTON CHRONICLE detailed how the
vinyl industry has manipulated vinyl chloride studies to avoid
liability for worker exposure and to hide extensive and severe chemical
spills into local communities. The CHRONICLE reported that a Shintech
facility in Texas accounted for nearly half of all "fugitive" air
emissions of vinyl chloride monomer in Texas from 1987 through 1996.[6]

Vinyl chloride production is also inherently a source of dioxins, a
highly toxic substance that can cause cancer and other illnesses in
humans even at very low exposure levels.[7] Dioxins are a global health
threat because they persist in the environment and can travel long
distances. At very low levels, near those to which the general
population is exposed, dioxins have been linked to immune system
suppression, reproductive disorders, a variety of cancers, and
endometriosis. According to a 1994 report by the British firm, ICI
Chemicals & Polymers Ltd., "It has been known since the publication of
a paper in 1989 that these oxychlorination reactions [used to make
vinyl chloride and some chlorinated solvents] generate polychlorinated
dibenzodioxins (PCDDs) and dibenzofurans (PCDFs). The reactions include
all of the ingredients and conditions necessary to form PCDD/PCDFs....
It is difficult to see how any of these conditions could be modified so
as to prevent PCDD/PCDF formation without seriously impairing the
reaction for which the process is designed."[8] In other words, dioxins
are an unavoidable consequence of making PVC. Dioxins created by vinyl
chloride production are released by on-site incinerators, flares,
boilers, wastewater treatment systems and even in trace quantities in
vinyl resins.[9]

Around the world, scientists have identified high levels of dioxin near
PVC production facilities. In 1996, scientists investigating dioxin in
the sediment of the Rhine River in Europe found that overall dioxin
levels have declined in recent years except for the specific types
traceable to vinyl chloride production.[10] In Lake Charles, Louisiana,
high levels of dioxin-like chemicals (e.g. hexachlorobenzene) have been
documented in the Calcasieu Estuary outside of the PPG and Vista
Chemical PVC production plants.[11] Vinyl production in a chemical
complex outside Venice, Italy has polluted the Venice lagoon with

Japanese communities are reporting some of the highest dioxin levels in
the world from the incineration of wastes containing PVC materials.[13]
It is ironic that while Japanese government officials are proposing
restrictions on the manufacture of PVC products to avoid increased
dioxin levels, Shintech, a Japanese-owned corporation, is battling
American citizens to build a PVC production complex in Louisiana.

U.S. communities near vinyl production plants have already been hurt.
For instance, in Louisiana, two poor African-American communities,
Morrisonville (once next to Dow Chemical in Plaquemine Parish) and
Reveilletown (once next to Georgia Gulf also in Plaquemine Parish) were
bought out and razed by the vinyl production companies because of
groundwater contamination, toxic air releases, and health problems
suffered by residents.[14] Ethylene dichloride (EDC), a suspected human
carcinogen used in the production of PVC, has leaked from the Vista
Chemical and PPG facilities into the groundwater below the African-
American community of Mossville.[15]

"The worst may be yet to come," according to the HOUSTON CHRONICLE. The
CHRONICLE explains that "[t]he 200-foot zone of the Chicot Aquifer,
which supplies some private water wells, is tainted with EDC.... The
concern is that the compound will seep into the 500-foot zone, which
provides city drinking water for more than 100,000 people."[16]

Even if Shintech could make PVC with less than 500,000 pounds of toxic
air emissions per year, the corporation would be making a product whose
use and disposal create severe environmental and health problems. As
Nike pointed out in a recent public announcement that it will remove
PVC entirely from its products, "the issue for us with PVC is a
lifecycle one. At Nike, we believe in looking at the entire product and
resource lifecycle. The pure PVC polymer is not toxic, but its
lifecycle is very hazardous to human health and the environment."[17]

PVC products create dioxins when burned, leach toxic additives during
use (see REHW #603) and are the least recyclable of all major plastics.
[18] Because of these and other reasons a number of organizations have
called for a PVC phase-out, including the American Public Health
Association[19] and the International Association of Fire Fighters
(IAFF).[20] The Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers has
declared PVC a contaminant to plastics recycling.[21] Numerous
businesses have either eliminated or begun working towards a PVC phase-
out in their products and facilities, including Nike, Volvo, Saab,
Braun, Ikea, the Body Shop, JM and Svenska Bostder (two of Sweden's
leading construction companies).[22] Major construction projects such
as the Sydney 2000 Olympics village are being designed to minimize the
use of PVC "by selecting alternative materials where they are
available, are fit for the purpose and are cost competitive."[23] [To
learn about alternatives to PVC, go to:

Even the PVC industry itself cannot be eager to see Shintech come on
line. A number of PVC companies (e.g. Geon and Oxychem) have merged,
which industry analysts suggest is due to "mounting losses in the
vinyls business as prices dived [sic] in 1998. Even the most cost-
efficient US producers are suffering as the Asian crisis slashes Asian
import demand and operating rates plummet.... Low growth rates in the
mature European economies mean that the industry's problems cannot be
hidden...."[24] Some major companies are bailing out. Shell announced
in April that it was seeking a buyer for its vinyl interests, and
companies such as Dow are hedging their bets by producing new-
generation polyolefins which analysts say will replace PVC in various
markets, including packaging, auto interiors, wiring, flooring and
other flexible applications. In sum, the production of PVC cannot in
any way be considered "desirable" development in Louisiana or anywhere
else. The battle against Shintech represents not only one of the
biggest environmental civil rights struggles in the nation's history,
but also a watershed moment that will impact national materials and
chemical policies for decades to come. Either those who want to profit
from the expansion of industrial chlorine chemistry will succeed, or
the U.S. environmental movement will successfully draw the line in
Convent by joining Louisiana's communities on the front line of the
struggle, shouting "Enough is enough!"

by Charlie Cray and Monique Harden*


* Charlie Cray is with the Greenpeace Toxics Campaign
[charlie.cray@green2.greenpeace.org] and Monique Harden is an attorney
with Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund [400 Magazine St., Ste. 401, New
Orleans, LA 70130]. Telephone (504) 522-1394; E-mail:

[1] For a more detailed discussion of the chemical industry and Cancer
Alley see "From Plantations to Plants: Report of the Emergency National
Commission on Environmental and Economic Justice in St. James Parish,
Louisiana" (draft) August 15, 1998. Soon to be available from the
United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice, 700 Prospect
Ave., Cleveland, OH 44115. Phone (216) 736-2168.

[2] See "The Myth of Shintech Jobs: Selling False Hopes to Local
Residents," prepared by the Louisiana Environmental Action Network,

[3] Louisiana Department of Economic Development, March 24, 1997.

[4] Public notice, air permit application, Shintech Corporation, Dec.
1997, and Shintech Application [to EPA] to Discharge Process Wastewater

[5] FEDERAL REGISTER Vol. 63, No. 83 (April 30, 1998), pgs. 23785-

[6] See Jim Morris, "In Strictest Confidence . The chemical industry's
secrets," HOUSTON CHRONICLE. Part One: "Toxic Secrecy," June 28, 1998,
pgs. 1A, 24A-27A; Part Two: "High-Level Crime," June 29, 1998, pgs.
1,A, 8A, 9A; and Part Three: "Bane on the Bayou," July 26, 1998, pgs.
1A, 16A.

[7] For example, see F. Kizbullin and others, "Evaluation of
polychlorinated dibenzodioxins and dibenzofurans emission from
vinylchloride-monomer production," ORGANOHALOGEN COMPOUNDS Vol. 36
(1998), pgs. 225-227. This paper shows an emission factor of 12.71 ug
TEQ per tonne of VCM produced.

OXYCHLORINATION. (The Heath, Runcorn, England: ICI, Chemicals &
Polymers Ltd., Safety & Environment Department, April 27, 1994).

[9] See Pat Costner and others, "PVC: A Primary Contributor to the U.S.
Dioxin Burden; Comments submitted to the U.S. EPA Dioxin
Reassessment," (Washington, D.C. Greenpeace U.S.A., February 1995).

[10] Erik H.G. Evers and others, "Levels, temporal trends and risk of
dioxins and related compounds in the Dutch aquatic environment,"
ORGANOHALOGEN COMPOUNDS Vol. 28 (1996), pgs. 117-122.

[11] Mark S. Curry and others [of Industrial Economics, Inc.],
"Contamination Extent Report and Prelimiary Injury Evaluation for the
Calcasieu Estuary," prepared for the Damage Assessment Center for
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Silver Spring, MD,
June 16, 1997.

[12] E. Benfenati, and others, "Mass spectometric analysis of organic
compounds in surface sediments frome the Venice lagoon," a paper
presented to the International Symposium on Chromatography and Mass
Spectrometry in Environmental analysis. St. Petersburg [Fla.], October
3-7, 1994.

[13] "Toxic Waste in Japan. The burning issue," THE ECONOMIST, July 25,
1998, pg. 60.

[14] Jon Bowermaster, "A Town Called Morrisonville" AUDUBON July/August
1993, pgs. 42-51.

[15] Michael D. Campbell [of Campbell and Associates, Houston, Texas],
"Report of Expert Opinions on CONDEA Vista Company's Lake Charles
Chemical Complex, Westlake, Louisiana, in the matter of Vista Chemical
Company and Conoco Inc. v. Geraghty & Miller Inc.," August 26, 1997.

[16] Jim Morris, "Bane on the Bayou," HOUSTON CHRONICLE July 26, 1998,
pgs. 1A, 16A.

[17] Nike PVC Phase-Out POV/Talking Points and Q and A, undated (1998).

[18] See R.W. Beck, "1995 National Post-Consumer Plastics Recycling
Rate Study," September 1996.

[19] American Public Health Association, resolution #9607, November
1996. See REHW #363.

[20] Richard Duffy, International Association of Fire Fighters,
Department of Occupational Health and Safety, April 14, 1998 letter to
Concord School Board.

[21] Steve Toloken, "Recyclers Tag PVC as Contaminant," PLASTICS NEWS,
April 20, 1998 p 4.

[22] For a list of PVC bans see "Chlorine & PVC Restrictions and PVC-
Free Policies," compiled by Greenpeace International. Available at
www.greenpeace.org/toxics/frame4cp.html. Select Policy, then PVC

[23] David Richmond, Director General, Sydney 2000 Olympic Co-
Ordination Authority, letter to Dr. Nicole Williams, Chief Executive of
the Plastics and Chemicals Industries Association, May 15, 1998.

[24] "Safety in numbers," EUROPEAN CHEMICAL NEWS, July 20-26, 1998,
page 18-19.

Descriptor terms: shintech; pvc; plastics; chlorine; dioxin; citizen
groups; la; convent; lean; charlie cray; monique harden; air pollution;
vinyl; civil rights; civil rights act of 1964; epa; sab; african-
americans; dioxin;