NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Politics Before Science

July 20, 2000

For the past decade, many environmentalists have attacked chlorine, a natural element used to manufacture vinyl plastic. In the late 1990s, following heavy publicity on this controversial topic, toy retailers began removing plastic toys from their shelves, and many parents disposed of their children's plastic baby bottles and teethers.

Environmentalists claim the compounds used to make vinyl plastic flexible may cause cancer, birth defects, and other health problems. However, research has not found a correlation between plastics softeners and adverse human health effects. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average adult is exposed to one to three trillionths of a gram of dioxins -- byproducts of combustion processes involving chlorine -- per kilogram of body weight per day, the equivalent of one human hair compared to all the hair on the heads of all the people in the world.

Advocates of a ban on chlorine and PVCs (polyvinyl chloride) overlook the fact that finding alternatives will require time-consuming and costly comparative risk assessments.

  • A switch to ozone for water treatment would cost approximately $6 billion annually, and ozone is not as effective as chlorine.
  • The phase-out of chlorinated pesticides would cost U.S. consumers an estimated $22.1 billion annually.
  • The annual cost of a total chlorine ban is estimated at $100 billion.

The claimed dangers of chlorine should be measured against its demonstrated benefits. Chlorinated drinking water has eliminated cholera, dysentery and typhoid, while chlorinated pesticides allow farmers to grow inexpensive produce, and chlorinated compounds help manufacture lifesaving pharmaceuticals.

Source: Daniel T. Oliver, "Politics Before Science: Are Environmentalists Waging a Plastic Campaign Against Plastics?" Capital Research Center, Organization Trends, April 2000.


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