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March 1, 2023Disasters strike most vinyl chloride producers, show need for substitution

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by Material Research L3C



The dangers of  vinyl chloride and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) have been widely recognized, long before the toxic train wreck in East Palestine, Ohio, last month.  Coming Clean, for example, profiled an explosion at Westlake Chemical's vinyl chloride plant in Louisiana in last year’s report, Preventing Disaster: Three chemical incidents within two weeks show urgent need for stronger federal safety requirements.

Material Research works with Coming Clean, its members, and other organizations around the world to deepen our collective understanding of supply chains - the actors, their impacts and alternatives. The production of vinyl chloride is one of the dirtiest and most dangerous branches of the petrochemical industry. Almost all vinyl chloride is used to produce PVC plastic.

Since 2010, there have been at least 40 chemical incidents worldwide involving vinyl chloride and PVC.  These have occurred at 29 facilities worldwide, including a dozen chemical factories in the U.S.  Fires, leaks, and explosions killed at least 71 people and injured 637 people. Many more people, animals, and plants have been harmed over the long-term. 

Material Research today published a chronology and map of these incidents in collaboration with Coming Clean, in support of the Coalition to Prevent Chemical Disasters. We welcome the use and adaptation of these resources with attribution for non-commercial purposes. 

Existing regulations have hardly addressed the inherent dangers of the vinyl chloride / PVC industry.  The Environmental Protection Agency’s Risk Management Plan (RMP) rulemaking process is a place to start.

Coming Clean, the Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform, and over 80 other organizations have urged EPA to require vinyl chloride manufacturers and all other facilities covered by the RMP to conduct a Safer Technology and Alternatives Assessment (STAA) to determine whether there are safer chemicals, processes and technologies they could be using, and implement the identified alternatives.

While the RMP is a U.S.-specific rule, the vinyl chloride industry’s track record, seen in our chronology, reveals the urgent need to fortify chemical safety requirements, starting with source reduction, worldwide.

Other recent analysis from the network:

Material Research Story Map / ArcGIS produced by Selena Sillari. Vinyl chloride chronology researched by Connie Murtagh, with Jim Vallette, Verónica Odriozola and Jill Weber.


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