This section of the Hitachi Case Study describes the PVC controversy related to the use of PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) by Hitachi Cable Manchester in its cable products.

There is a controversy about the harmful effects of PVC-related smoke.

When PVC burns, the chloride used in its manufacturing can turn into hydrogen chloride - a toxic gas that can cause health issues like coughing, choking, inflammation of the nose, throat, and upper respiratory tract, and in severe and rare instances, pulmonary edema, circulatory system failure and death, Iamartino notes.

Lynne Humenik explains that according to a study conducted by the Vinyl Environmental Council on a number of compounds and polymers, the smoke generated by PVC is minor. It is only about 1/20 of smoke produced by other plastics, such as polypropylene, polyethylene, polyester, and polystyrene. In other words, the amount of smoke generated by PVC is relatively small. Though PVC generates carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and hydrogen chloride, it does not generate more toxic substances, such as hydrogen cyanide and aldehydes.

In this video: Lynne Humenik explains the bi-products of combustion and the characteristic combustion product of PVC when it burns.

Different viewpoints on different continents

North America and the EU have taken essentially different approaches to the regulation of PVC. In the U.S., we are more interested in preventing flame spread. In Europe, smoke density is the priority. Smoke inhalation is toxic, and in many cases can kill much faster than the actual fire.

Brian Johnston, Director of Engineering at Hitachi Cable Manchester and Mike Patel, Industry Manager at Teknor Apex

In this video: Brian Johnston, Director of Engineering at Hitachi Cable Manchester notes the different approaches taken by both the US and European fire protection agencies. (0:32)
(interviewed in May, 2011)

Much of the European viewpoint on PVC is shaped by environmental activists and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which have significantly more influence in the EU than in the U.S.

Some original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are responding to the direct pressures of environmental activism by NGO, such as Greenpeace. These NGOs have also been able to apply indirect pressure by lobbying the most "green leaning" EU politicians to legislate restrictions on the use of PVC. To truly understand a product's environmental sensitivity, its entire life – not just part of its life – should be evaluated. Multiple lifecycle assessments on PVC have been conducted in the EU as well as in the U.S., and they’ve shown that PVC's impact on the environment is comparable to or lower than most alternatives.

Mike Patel, Industry Manager at Teknor Apex

In this video: Mike Patel discusses the important of lifecycle assessment in order to determine a product’s environmental sensitivity. (0:36)

The Phthalate Issue

Phthalate plasticizers that make PVC flexible are generally not used in cable compounds. However, some studies have shown that when these cables are disposed of, in the landfills, phthalates can migrate into the ground water.

Some data suggests that these phthalates have caused problems with the amphibian population, and might affect the endocrine systems of humans. It is also suspected to reduce the reproductive capabilities in men, Iamartino notes.

However, even this issue is complicated.

Not all phthalates are bad. Only low molecular weight phthalates are potentially harmful. One particularly potent phthalate, DEHP, has gained notoriety for its alleged negative effects on the development of the male reproductive system. In animal models (and, to a lesser extent, humans), DEHP exposure has been linked to decreased sperm counts and altered development of the external genitals in males. To date, few studies have shown that female reproductive function may be at risk as well. However, the DEHP issue is currently being addressed and alternative materials are increasingly being used.

Lynne Humenik, Executive Vice President at Hitachi Cable Manchester

In this video: Lynne Humenik describes alternatives to PVC, such as non-halogenated materials. (0:31)

PVC products in application states are very safe. In times past, the manufacturing of PVC may have involved some questionable practices, which could have led to environment hazards, such as ground water contamination. This is true with many growing industries; however, these issues were addressed years if not decades ago. The manufacturing of PVC presently is very stable and safe. We now have to start considering our end of life practices. What do we do with all of our old and abandoned cable products at the end of life cycle? This is where the industry needs to focus and improve. It will happen. All we need is time and the will to do so.

Brian Johnston, Director of Engineering at Hitachi Cable Manchester

Teknor Apex

Diversified material science


Release Date:
July, 2011, prior to the merger of Hitachi Cable Manchester with Hitachi Cable America

Products & Services:
RoHS-compliant cables and cable products

Solutions By:
Hitachi Cable Manchester

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