EPA Considers Vinyl Chloride Risk Evaluation

Aug. 14, 2023
Agency could review whether the substance released in the East Palestine, Ohio, derailment poses an unreasonable safety risk.

UPDATED: 8/16/23 at 10:39 a.m. EST

Vinyl chloride could be the target of an Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) risk evaluation in the near future, according to an Associated Press report.

Vinyl chloride was the chemical that emergency responders released and burned after the Feb. 3 train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. Many people near the wreckage site have complained of illnesses following the accident, including headaches, nausea, burning eyes and sore throats.

Vinyl chloride is among a range of chemicals eligible for a risk assessment later this year, according to the AP report.  “EPA could begin a risk evaluation on vinyl chloride in the near future,’' the agency said in a statement to the AP.  

In July, several environmental groups calling for a vinyl chloride ban delivered 27,570 petition signatures to the EPA.

The petition stated that burning vinyl chloride may create and release dioxins, which can cause cancer and disrupt the hormonal, reproductive, developmental and immune systems. The petition also noted that vinyl chloride production poses environmental justice risks as it’s often produced in low-income areas and communities of color in Louisiana, Texas and Kentucky.  

Vinyl chloride is the primary building block for polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, a plastic commonly used in construction piping.

Beyond Plastics, one of the groups calling for the ban, said there are safer alternatives to PVC. While vinyl chloride is “very dangerous,” it is currently the only practical way to produce PVC, says Eric Beckman, an engineering professor and codirector of the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation at the University of Pittsburgh. 

“I would have thought that the first step would be to ban rail or road transport of VC (vinyl chloride),” said Beckman in an email response to Chemical Processing.

As Beckman previously remarked, until safer substitute materials are available, vertically integrated manufacturing models may help lessen the risk posed by dangerous substances.

“If you're going to make PVC, you must make your VC at the same site,” says Beckman. “Then, perhaps down the road, get rid of VC entirely via new routes to PVC.”

Ned Monroe, president and CEO of the Vinyl Institute, says he has not received any indication from the EPA that vinyl chloride will be on the Toxic Substances Control Act prioritization list.  

"Vinyl chloride has been already extensively studied and is heavily regulated, so the agency has the information it needs to determine whether more regulation is needed, without giving into activist pressure," Monroe said in an emailed statement. "Manufacturers of VCM (vinyl chloride monomer) adhere to some of the most stringent safety and environmental regulations in the chemical industry. All safety protocols, procedures, and training programs are conducted in accordance with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration. However, because vinyl chloride has been so widely researched, that could make a risk evaluation process go more quickly, whether it’s an actual priority for the agency or not. It is at EPA's discretion, and they may consider prioritizing less-studied and more prevalent substances.”

About the Author

Jonathan Katz | Executive Editor

Jonathan Katz, executive editor, brings nearly two decades of experience as a B2B journalist to Chemical Processing magazine. He has expertise on a wide range of industrial topics. Jon previously served as the managing editor for IndustryWeek magazine and, most recently, as a freelance writer specializing in content marketing for the manufacturing sector.

His knowledge areas include industrial safety, environmental compliance/sustainability, lean manufacturing/continuous improvement, Industry 4.0/automation and many other topics of interest to the Chemical Processing audience.

When he’s not working, Jon enjoys fishing, hiking and music, including a small but growing vinyl collection.

Jon resides in the Cleveland, Ohio, area.

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