Vinyl chloride is a colorless, flammable gas with a faintly sweet odor. Vinyl chloride is a carcinogen, causing serious injury and death to many who are exposed to it.
Vinyl chloride odor threshhold (the level at which most people can smell the gas and be warned of its presence) probably exceeds 4,000 ppm. This figure is in excess of every legal standard that has ever been applied to vinyl chloride monomer exposure, and is 4,000 times higher than the current OSHA PEL of 1 ppm. If a person smells vinyl chloride monomer, that person has been grossly overexposed to the substance.
Vinyl chloride monomer is the parent compound of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a plastic resin used in innumerable consumer and industrial products, including containers, beverage containers, food storage containers, wrapping film, battery cell separators, refrigerant gas, electrical insulation, water distribution systems such as drain pipes and hose, flooring, windows, phonograph records, video discs, irrigation systems, credit cards, latex paints, and vinyl siding for homes. Vinyl chloride monomer is also used as a copolymer in various resins used in plastic food wrap.
Though most vinyl chloride monomer is used industrially to make polyvinyl chloride products, historically vinyl chloride monomer was used as a component of aerosol propellants for women's hair spray, for aerosolized pesticides, and for some medical applications. Although PVC is certainly a distinct product from vinyl chloride monomer, PVC is manufactured using vinyl chloride monomer and PVC resins, and PVC resins all contain some degree of vinyl chloride monomer. Indeed, as a general rule, workers in PVC plants sustain even higher exposure to vinyl chloride monomer than workers engaged in the direct manufacturer of vinyl chloride monomer itself.
Vinyl chloride-vinyl acetate copolymers are used extensively to produce vinyl asbestos floor tiles. Technical grade vinyl chloride is commercially supplied as a 99.9% pure liquid under pressure, but may also be found in EDC plants, in methyl chloroform plants, and, most importantly, in PVC processing and fabricating plants. Residual vinyl chloride monomer may be found in PVC and PVC resins that are not recognized as containing dangerous levels of vinyl chloride monomer.
Although evidence of the carcinogenic effect of vinyl chloride in humans has come from groups occupationally exposed to high doses of vinyl chloride, there is no evidence that there is an exposure level below which no increased risk of cancer would occur in humans. And while workers in the chemical and plastics industries have the highest exposures to vinyl chloride monomer, a large population of workers involved in the fabrication of polyvinyl chloride products (children's toys, shower curtains, etc.) have also had exposure to vinyl chloride monomer.
Vinyl chloride may damage the developing fetus. An excess of spontaneous abortions has been reported among workers and spouses of workers who have been exposed to vinyl chloride. Increased rates of birth defects have been reported in areas where vinyl chloride processing plants are located. Vinyl chloride has been shown to cause liver, brain, and lung cancer, as well as lymphatic and hematopoietic malignancies (such as lymphoma and leukemia) in multiple epidemiologic studies. Case reports in epidemiology have shown increased incidences of liver angiosarcomas and hemangiomas, lung angiosarcomas and adenocarcinomas, brain angiosarcomas, lymphopoietic system tumors, and other lymphomas in humans occupationally exposed to vinyl chloride. Other long-term effects of exposure to vinyl chloride include a pseudo-scleroderma, which causes the skin to become smooth and tight, acro-osteolysis, which causes the bones of the fingers to erode, and Raynauds syndrome, which damages the blood vessels in the extremities with resulting pain and coldness.
If vinyl chloride is ingested, inhaled, or brought into contact with skin, it irritates the eyes, skin, and upper respiratory system, and causes drowsiness, dizziness, and lightheadedness. High levels of exposure can cause headaches, stomach ulcers, skin allergies, nausea, weakness, unconsciousness, and sometimes death. Contact with liquid vinyl chloride can cause frostbite.
Vinyl chloride is presently produced at 12 locations in the United States: Westlake, Calvert City, KY; Borden, Geismar, LA; Condea Vista, Lake Charles, LA; Dow, Plaquemine, LA; Formosa, Baton Rouge, LA; Georgia Gulf, Plaquemine, LA; PHH Monomers, Lake Charles, LA; Dow, Freeport, TX; Formosa, Point Comfort, TX; Geon, LaPorte, TX; OxyChem, Deer Park, TX; OxyMar, Ingleside, TX. Historically, vinyl chloride monomer and/or polyvinyl chloride have been produced at facilities in the following US cities: Demopolis, AL; Carson, CA; Henry, IL; Louisville, KY; Baton Rouge, LA; Plaquemine, LA; Leominster, MA; Springfield-Indian Orchard, MA; Flemington, NJ; Brooklyn, NY; Akron, OH; Painesville, OH; Deer Park, TX; LaPorte, TX; Texas City, TX; Moundsville, WV; Saugus-Santa Clarita, LA; Illiopolis, IL; Owensboro, KY; Norco, LA; Fitchburg, MA; South Acton, MA; Aberdeen, MS; South Kearney, NJ; Niagara Falls, NY; Huron, OH; Cranston, RI; Ingleside, TX; Point Comfort, TX; Point Pleasant, WV; Long Beach, CA; Pensacola-Pace, FL; Meredosia, IL; Calvert City, KY; Lake Charles, LA; Assonet, MA; New Bedford, MA; Midland, MI; Pedricktown, NJ; Hecksville, NY; Avon Lake, OH; Pottstown, PA; Houston, TX; Pasadena, TX; South Charleston, WV; Delaware City, DE; Compton, CA; Ringwood, IL; Geismar, LA; Westlake, LA; Hebronville, MA; Perryville, MD; Passiac, NJ; Bainbridge, NY; Ashtabula,OH; Oklahoma City, OK; Freeport, TX; Oyster Creek, TX; Institute, WV; Guayanilla, Puerto Rico
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