By Kingsley Adegboye

A UNIVERSITY don and a fellow of Nigerian Society of Engineers, NSE, Prof. Samuel Wara has noted that Poly Vinyl Chloride commonly known as PVC which  is one of the common synthetic materials heavily used in building construction today, especially for interior finishes, is the most environmentally damaging plastic material ever used  by home owners.

According to Wara who is a lecturer in the Department of Electronics Engineering at the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, Ogun State, the danger in the use of the materials is premised on the fact that the life cycle of PVC right from its production stage to its usage and finally disposal always results in one form of health and environmental hazard or the other.

He said in Nigeria, the use of PVC products such as PVC ceiling, PVC windows and doors as well as roofing materials made from PVC has become the order of the day, pointing out that this is as a result of failure of relevant regulatory agencies involved in the building construction industry to check and enforce the building regulatory code as related to various building materials applications.

Common practice

He added that it is now a common practice to see mansions, offices and other heavily occupied buildings being finished with PVC products.Prof Wara said the argument often put forward in support of PVC materials includes their appealing aesthetics, lower cost, fire retardant and lower weight among many others.

He however noted that ‘’while these appear tempting, the comment in January 1998 issue of the Environmental Business News is disturbing. This report stated that ‘while Greenpeace has been most vocal regarding environmental and health concerns with PVC, they are by no means the only voice out there expressing such concern’.

‘’Also, the position of the International Association of Fire Fighters in the U.S. does not favour the continuous use of PVC products as building materials. According to the Association, ‘due to its intrinsic hazards, we support effort to identify and use the alternative building materials that do not pose as much risk as PVC to fire fighters, building occupants and the communities’. It is imperative to critically examine the other side of PVC products in the light of its usage as building materials going by growing concerns and call for its abolition in virtually all of advanced countries’’, he said.

On the dangers inherent in the use of PVC-based materials, the fellow of NSE told Vanguard Homes & Property that PVC products which are rich in chlorine; reduces its natural fire retardant property considerably, explaining that in the event of fire incident in a building finished with PVC products, the materials become a double edge sword in the sense that its long smoulder period enhances release of irritating and poisonous hydrogen chloride gas.

He added that the occupants of such building might get caught up in fire due to late sign of visible fire outbreak.

‘’In addition, building materials made from PVC such as PVC windows, ceilings, doors as well as PVC vinyl flooring and roof release a chemical softener called DiEthyl-Hexyl Phathalate (DEHP), which has been associated with the increase in respiratory sensitisation. Also, some PVC products such as PVC mini-blinds have lead additives as active component. This lead additive was found to cause lead poisoning in people living in such buildings, especially in small children.

‘’Flexible PVC such as one used for ceilings and roofs causes harm to indoor air quality and encourages growth of hazardous moulds. Three separate epidemiological studies have found that human exposure to PVC in building interior such as  roofs, ceilings, doors, windows, blinds etc causes significant elevated risk of asthma and other pulmonary conditions, including bronchial obstruction, wheezing and pneumonia, prolonged coughing and irritation of nasal passage and eyes.

‘’The hazards posed by dioxins, DEHP and vinyl chloride are largely unique to PVC products owing to the fact that it is the only major building material and the major plastic that contains chlorine or requires plasticizer or stabilizer. DEHP produced by PVC has been found to cause damage to reproductive system of sex resulting in partial or total infertility. Notable impairments include testicular damage, reduction in sperm count, suppressed ovulation, abnormal development and function of testes’,he stated.

On what can be done to check this, Prof. Wara said across the world, governments, companies, agencies and scientific organisations have come to a common position and recognised the hazards of PV, pointing out that virtually in most advanced countries, application and usage of PVC have either been eliminated or restricted for environmental and health reasons.

According to him, this is achieved by the introduction of PVC avoidance policies to safeguard the populace, while numerous local and regional governments have put in place specific policies to avoid use of PVC products in building construction in an attempt to checkmate the inherent dangers in PVC.

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