What Is Vinyl Chloride?

Vinyl chloride (C.A.S. 75-01-4) is a colorless, flammable gas with a faintly sweet odor. Its odor threshold (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.

Synonyms for vinyl chloride are chloroethene, chloroethylene, chlorethylene, ethylene monochloride, monochloroethene, monochloroethylene, VC, and vinyl chloride monomer (vinyl chloride monomer).

Health Effects of Exposure

According to the Sixth Annual Report on Carcinogens, published by the National Toxicology Program, vinyl chloride is a carcinogen. It is also listed as a carcinogen in EPA’s national Toxic Release Inventory (TRI).

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.

Production Locations

Vinyl chloride monomer 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. Significant vinyl chloride exposure may also occur at the tens of thousands of PVC processing and fabrication plants scattered across the United States.

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, Fitchbury, 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.

Production Regulations

As of 1974, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the EPA, and the FDA have all banned the use of vinyl chloride as an aerosol propellant. The Clean Air Act addresses vinyl chloride emissions from production and manufacturing facilities.

Under the Clean Water Act, the EPA published a water quality criteria document addressing vinyl chloride for the protection of human health. EPA also regulates vinyl chloride as a hazardous constituent of waste under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, the EPA established a maximum contaminant level for vinyl chloride.

The FDA eliminated the use of vinyl chloride in drug products and proposed alerting food manufacturers to the need for monitoring packaging materials that may contain it.

OSHA has established permissible exposure limits for vinyl chloride, and regulates vinyl chloride under the Hazard Communication Standard and as a chemical hazard in laboratories.

Under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act of 1986, releases of more than 1 pound of vinyl chloride into the air, water, or land must be reported annually and entered into the national TRI.

The three states in which the largest amounts of vinyl chloride were released in 1989 were Texas (236,685 pounds), Louisiana (175,040 pounds), and Delaware (174,637 pounds).

Vinyl Chloride Related Occupations

Most people who are exposed to vinyl chloride come into contact with the substance in a workplace environment.

Below is a list of occupations at high risk for exposure to vinyl chloride.

Occupations at Risk

Plant workers, especially poly operators/cleaners and workers that load/unload vinyl chloride railcars. Many of these workers have complained of dizziness or in some cases having passed out due to excessive exposure to vinyl chloride.

Fabricators who make PVC end-consumer products like shower curtains or automobile upholstery. As PVC plastic is heated or fabricated to make consumer products, it releases chemicals contained in it, including vinyl chloride, which can accumulate in harmful levels.

Railroad and other transportation workers who transport vinyl chloride and PVC plastic by truck, railroad, barge or ship. Railroad workers can be exposed to vinyl chloride and PVC plastic because the railcars used to transport these materials can leak, rupture and off-gas their contents. But, the most frequent form of overexposure is in the loading and unloading of vinyl chloride into or out of railcars, trucks, or ships and barges. Even after unloading is complete, a heel of vinyl chloride tends to remain in the vessel because vinyl chloride is heavier than air. When the railcar, ship or barge is cleaned or reloaded, the heel of vinyl chloride becomes displaced and can cause overexposure.

Beauticians who worked prior to 1974. Vinyl chloride was used to propel hairspray from cans. This resulted in enormous exposures for beauticians and hair stylists who worked in this industry before 1974. By some estimations, beauticians received vinyl chloride exposures that were hundreds of times the legal limit (1ppm).

If you or a loved one worked in an environment where you were exposed to vinyl chloride, you may be entitled to compensation. If you or a loved one has been exposed to vinyl chloride, please contact the vinyl chloride attorneys at Bagolie Friedman – located in Jersey City, New Jersey and Hollywood, Florida – for a free consultation.

Consumer Exposure to Vinyl Chloride

Consumers can become exposed to vinyl chloride through contaminated drinking water, new car vapors, and other various means. Small amounts of vinyl chloride can dissolve in water. In addition, the breakdown of other chemicals can result in the formation of vinyl chloride, which can then leach into groundwater. If more than one pound of vinyl chloride is accidentally spilled or released into the environment, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires that a report be filed.The EPA also requires that the maximum level of vinyl chloride found in drinking water be no more than 2 parts per billion (2 ppb).

Risk to Neighboring Communities

People living adjacent to, or very near, vinyl chloride or polyvinyl chloride plants can be overexposed. Overexposure can occur from the loading and unloading of vinyl chloride at the plant as well as from the opening of the polymerization reactors used to make the PVC plastic. In addition, vinyl chloride can be vented to the atmosphere and discharged into the water. We have years of experience in helping both consumers and workers exposed to vinyl chloride. If you or a loved one has been exposed to vinyl chloride and suffer from one of the diseases listed above, please contact the vinyl chloride attorneys at Bagolie Friedman – located in Jersey City, New Jersey and Hollywood, Florida – for a free consultation.

Vinyl Chloride Related Diseases

There are many adverse health effects that can occur in persons who have been exposed to vinyl chloride, including angiosarcoma, liver cancer and disease, brain cancer, Raynaud’s syndrome, and acro-osteolysis.

The following list describes each of these ailments.

Angiosarcoma – a malignant tumor that originates in the blood vessels of the body. Angiosarcoma of the liver, is the most readily recognized cancer associated with exposure to vinyl chloride. It has been found in persons who have had exposure to vinyl chloride and persons exposed to some aerosol products up until the early to mid 1970s.

The medical literature contains the following synonyms for angiosarcoma of the liver:

  • Hemangio-endothelial Sarcoma
  • Malignant vascular tumor of the liver
  • Kupffer Cell Sarcoma
  • Hemangioendothelioma
  • Hemangioblastoma
  • Endothelioblastoma
  • Reticuloendothelioma (Purdy Stout)
  • Angioplastic Sarcoma
  • Primary Hepatic Sarcoma
  • Angioplastic Sarcoma
  • Endothelioma (grades: undifferentiated, well differentiated and anaplastic)
  • Hemangiosarcoma
  • Malignant Hemangiosarcoma
  • Malignant Hemangioendothelioma
  • Metastasizing Hemangioma.

Liver Cancer – primary liver cancer is linked to vinyl chloride exposure. Workers in vinyl chloride, PVC, and fabrication facilities are at an increased risk of liver cancer.

Liver Disease – a condition characterized by enlargement, surface changes, overproduction of collagen, and damage to liver tissue (these symptoms are collectively known as “hepatic toxicity”). This includes cirrhosis of the liver. Workers exposed to vinyl chloride are at an increased risk for liver disease.

Brain Cancer – vinyl chloride is the only known chemical or environmental agent that causes brain tumors. Tumors can occur in the brain stem, frontal lobe, parietal lobe, occipital lobe, and temporal lobe. Brain cancer has occurred in workers occupationally exposed to vinyl chloride.

Raynaud’s Syndrome – also known as Raynaud’s disease or Raynaud’s phenomenon, Raynaud’s syndrome is a condition characterized by numbness and discomfort in the fingers when exposed to cold temperatures. Patients with this condition have poor blood flow to the fingers and toes due to damage to the circulatory system. It has been found in workers at vinyl chloride and PVC manufacturing facilities.

Acro-osteolysis – a condition characterized by the loss of bone in the fingers, it has also been known to affect the bones of the toes, feet, arms, legs, pelvis, and mandible. This condition has been reported in people who work with vinyl chloride.

Have you or someone you love been injured by exposure to vinyl chloride, Polyvinyl Chloride PVC or plastics? Trust Bagolie Friedman Injury Lawyers to fight for your rights and obtain the justice you deserve. We offer aggressive representation and free consultations.

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