'Green' PVC report stirs debate

BY ROBERT P. MADER Of CONTRACTOR's STAFF WASHINGTON The Technical and Scientific Advisory Committee of the U.S. Green Building Council issued its final report in February on the technical and scientific basis for a PVC-related credit within the LEED Green Building Rating System. TSAC's draft report for public comment was presented in December 2004. Based on the comments and white papers that were

BY ROBERT P. MADER
Of CONTRACTOR's STAFF

WASHINGTON — The Technical and Scientific Advisory Committee of the U.S. Green Building Council issued its final report in February on the technical and scientific basis for a PVC-related credit within the LEED Green Building Rating System.

TSAC's draft report for public comment was presented in December 2004. Based on the comments and white papers that were submitted in response to that report, TSAC expanded its analysis to address concerns and new data raised during the process, including end-of-life issues such as backyard burning and landfill fires.

TSAC was examining pipe used for drain, waste and vent only, said Richard W. Church, executive director of the Plastic Pipe & Fittings Association.

The original charge to the committee was to review the evidence offered by stakeholders and independent sources as well as to advise the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design committee on the availability and quality of evidence as a basis for a decision about the inclusion of a PVC-related credit in LEED.

"To do so, we investigated this question: For the applications studied, does the available evidence indicate that PVC-based materials are consistently among the worst of the alternative materials studied in terms of environmental and health impacts?" TSAC Chairman Malcolm Lewis said. "Through the course of our intense research, we concluded that a simple yes or no answer to this question was not adequate, and a more nuanced answer, which points the way to dealing with some larger issues, was essential."

That more nuanced answer had both environmentalists and the piping industry declaring victory.

The Vinyl Institute said that the final report reaffirmed the conclusions of its earlier draft report that PVC should not be the subject of a negative credit in the LEED rating system.

"This is the right decision," Vinyl Institute President Tim Burns said.

The report states that materials-related credits are a "blunt instrument" that could steer designers to choose materials with a more negative life-cycle impact, Burns said. The 2004 draft report reached a similar conclusion.

In contrast, environmentalist group the Healthy Building Network, declared: "The report makes clear that PVC, also commonly known as vinyl, is not a healthy building material. A proper accounting of the human health impacts of PVC across its life cycle, including disposal issues and occupational exposure, finds that PVC leads to the release of dangerous quantities of dioxin and other carcinogens. The report authors found that, ‘When we add end of life with accidental landfill fires and backyard burning, the additional risk of dioxin emissions puts PVC consistently among the worst materials for human health impacts… .'"

The result may be a draw. Noting that the report was flawed and contained data that needs verification, Charlotte Pipe spokesman Bradford Muller noted, "What USGBC is saying is, ‘Thank you for the report, now we'll take it under advisement on what to do.'" He said he believes that USGBC really wants to be "material neutral" and had commissioned the report to placate environmentalists who had been asking the USGBC to take action against PVC.

"There's a group of folks out there who don't like PVC and they want it either banned or limited," Muller said. "There was a proposal that LEED give credits for avoiding PVC and this was an effort to derail some of that and have USGBC remain neutral."

TSAC handed over the report and the responsibility to the LEED Steering Committee, which will review the document and advise the USGBC's board of directors about what should be done.

TAGS: Piping