Exposure to high levels of vinyl chloride can cause damage to the kidneys, liver, and nervous system. Long term exposure can increase the risk of developing immune disorders and various types of cancer. Pregnant women who are exposed to vinyl chloride may be at an increased risk of miscarriage. The risk of birth defects is also increased. Most people are exposed to vinyl chloride when they inhale contaminated air. Exposure can also occur when people drink contaminated water. The effects of chemical exposure can follow people for the rest of their lives.
Understanding Vinyl Chloride
Vinyl chloride is colorless and emits a mild, sweet scent. It is used to produce polyvinyl chloride commonly known as PVC. PVC is used to make many products including pipes, garden hoses, siding, electronics, automobile parts, and packaging materials. Its strength and versatility make it one of the most ubiquitous products in the United States.
Harmful Effects of Vinyl Chloride
Although some people suffer ill effects when they drink water that is contaminated with vinyl chloride, most people are exposed through inhalation. Breathing high levels of vinyl chloride can cause lightheadedness and headaches.
Exposure to vinyl chloride can cause severe damage to the liver, lungs, kidneys, and other organs. Long-term exposure carries with it a significant risk of liver cancer. Pregnant women who experience a high level of exposure via ingestion or inhalation are at increased risk of suffering a miscarriage. The fetus may develop severe or fatal birth defects.
Cancer is the most serious long-term health impact associated with exposure to vinyl chloride. A direct link between prolonged exposure and the development of lung, kidney, brain, and other fatal cancers has been identified. Over the past 50 years, “cancer clusters” have emerged that show the deadly impact of poorly managing this toxic material. In many cases, these clusters developed when corporate interests were put before public safety.
Testing for Vinyl Chloride
Public water systems are routinely tested for vinyl chloride content. The EPA’s current safe limits are 2 micrograms of vinyl chloride per liter of drinking water. There are no set limits for airborne contamination, but as a general rule if the individual can smell it, then the amount in the atmosphere is above safe limits.
Urine testing is available, however, it has limitations. While it can detect recent exposure, it cannot identify long-term exposures.