Polyvinyl chloride in consumer and environmental plastics, with a particular focus on metal-based additives

2021-08-09

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is one of the most widely used thermoplastics but is also a material of concern because of the generation and release of harmful chemicals during its life cycle. Amongst the chemicals added to PVC are metal-based stabilisers and Sb-based halogenated flame retardant synergists. However, very little quantitative information exists on these additives, and in particular in PVC lost to the environment. In this study, the distribution of PVC amongst consumer plastics in societal circulation and plastics retrieved from marine and lacustrine beaches and agricultural soils are compared, along with the presence and concentrations of Ba, Cd, Pb, Sb, Sn and Zn as proxies for common metal-based additives and determined by X-ray fluorescence spectrometry. About 10% of consumer plastics and 2% of environmental plastics were constructed of PVC, with the discrepancy attributed to the long service lives and managed disposal of PVC used in the construction sector and the propensity of the plastic to sink in aquatic systems and evade detection. Metal-based additives, defined as having a metal concentration >1000 mg kg-1, were present in about 75% of consumer and environmental PVC, with Ba and Pb most abundant and Cd and Zn least abundant in both types of sample, and median concentrations statistically different only for Ba. Metals also appeared to be present as contaminants (defined as concentrations <1000 mg kg-1) arising from manufacturing or recycling. Metals in PVC are believed to pose little risk when the material is in use, but experimental evidence in the literature suggests that significant mobilisation and exposure may occur from PVC microplastics when ingested by wildlife.

Authors: Andrew Turner, Montserrat Filella
; Full Source: Environmental science. Processes & impacts 2021 Aug 9. doi: 10.1039/d1em00213a.