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New York ordinance may put squeeze on PVC

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NEW YORK (Dec. 29, 3:30 p.m. EST) -- New York appears to be anti-PVC, at least judging by a far-reaching new city ordinance requiring city agencies to adopt environmentally preferable procurement goals.

City Council voted Dec. 21 to require agencies to be environmentally friendly in their purchases, specifically avoiding things like electronic products with heavy metals, carpets and office products that give off volatile organic compounds and, most importantly for vinyl, products that contribute to dioxin formation when burned.

While the ordinance does not specify avoiding PVC, a legislative report accompanying the law mentions PVC frequently as a source of dioxin, and city officials expect PVC avoidance to figure prominently when the law is implemented.

“It’s fairly obvious they will get to PVC because it is one of the most widely purchased chlorinated products,” according to an aide to City Council Speaker Gifford Miller, who spoke on background. Miller’s term expired Dec. 31.

The law creates a new position of director of environmental purchasing and charges that person with writing regulations implementing the new rules by 2008.

An environmental group praised the ordinance as one of the most far-reaching local laws in the United States on environmental purchasing, in part because the city is creating a staff job, appointed by the mayor, to implement it.

“Based on our conversations with key City Council staff, the city is firmly committed to reducing the purchase of PVC and other chlorinated compounds,” said Mike Schade, PVC campaign coordinator for the Falls Church, Va.-based Center for Health, Environment and Justice.

But the Vinyl Institute, an Arlington, Va.-based industry group, said the city policy is misguided to focus on PVC. Reducing dioxin would require the city to target diesel-powered buses and wood burning because those are also sources of the carcinogenic compound, said VI spokesman Allen Blakey.

Chlorine is plentiful in the waste stream, so focusing on PVC will not make a measurable dent in dioxide production, he said.

Environmental regulations targeting municipal and medical waste incinerators are the main reasons why the amount of dioxin is estimated to have dropped roughly thirteenfold since 1987, Blakey said, citing U.S. government data. The city should inventory its sources of dioxin so it can target its efforts, he said.

Early drafts of the law specifically mentioned PVC, but those were dropped from the final language.

A city report said dioxin is one of the most carcinogenic chemicals, and said the city is concerned about dioxin being released from incomplete burning in structural fires. The city, citing U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data, said PVC and other chlorinated compounds like textiles and paints are the primary sources of chlorine in accidental fires.

The legislation covers much more than PVC, targeting persistent bioaccumulative toxins like mercury.

New York’s action follows similar ordinances or resolutions in Seattle, Boston and San Francisco that also focus not on PVC but on dioxin or PBT elimination.

The implementation results seem mixed: Schade said Seattle, for example, switched some projects from PVC pipe to polyethylene, while VI’s Blakey said the city also kept PVC for many products, like traffic cones.

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