Polyvinylchloride (PVC) is the second largest selling plastic, consuming almost one-third of the chlorine produced worldwide. Used to manufacture pipe, conduit, fittings, wire insulation, packing and home furnishings, PVC was produced in the USA at the rate of 9 billion kilograms per year in 1996 (with 60 percent of this along the Texas Gulf Coast), and will grow by about three percent per year for the foreseeable future. Polyvinylchloride is made from vinyl chloride monomer (VCM), which in turn comes from the pyrolysis of ethylene dichloride (EDC) by reaction.
PVC has a linear structure similar to polyethylene but with a chlorine atom replacing a hydrogen atom on alternate carbon atoms. PVC itself is hard and rigid but the addition of phthalate esters as plasticisers makes it soft and pliable and ideal for tubing.
Questions have been raised relating to the safety of soft PVC toys and teething rings which are put into the mouth by small children. Reasons for concern for children's health have been raised because of the release of phthalates, a chemical substance used as a plasticiser in such PVC toys. Phthalates can damage the liver, kidneys and testicles when ingested. On 30 September 1999 eight Member States adopted measures prohibiting the use of phthalates in toys which small children put in their mouth. The European Commission adopted a Europe-wide withdrawal of such toys from the market in November 1999.