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Report: The Perils of PVC Plastic Pipes

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Report reveals human health risks of polyvinyl chloride
(PVC) plastic, recommending state and local officials avoid using the material for their communities’ water pipes.

The discovery of unsafe levels of lead in drinking water in communities across the country is so pervasive that in November 2021, Congress made $15 billion available to states and municipalities to replace lead service lines (the pipes that deliver water to our homes, schools, and businesses). 

Although the decision to replace those lead lines is very positive, it’s equally important to ensure that the replacement piping material will not simply create a new set of adverse health and environmental impacts. The data on the safety of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic piping raises serious concerns about replacing metal pipes with PVC plastic pipes. The risk of leaching chemicals that are harmful to human health is real. There is evidence that this may occur, and the testing necessary to prove otherwise is either inadequate or nonexistent.

Communities that opt to replace their lead service lines with PVC plastic pipes may well be leaping from the frying pan into the fire. Although we strongly support the replacement of lead service lines, we need to know that the replacement piping material is safe. 

In the absence of guidance from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s to state and local governments on the safety of various replacement piping materials, Beyond Plastics commissioned the well-respected science writer Meg Wilcox to look at the published literature and examine this issue. What Wilcox found is eye-opening and raises concerns that should be considered by the state and local officials who are deciding what type of pipes will be used in their communities. The residents who drink and bathe in these public water supplies should also be aware of the dangers posed by PVC service pipes.

The report has been compiled with additional resources and insights from Beyond Plastics, Environmental Health Sciences, and Plastic Pollution Coalition.

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