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PVC Controversy

PVC Controversy

  • Environment
  • U.S.A.

Over the recent years, there have been many questions about the safety of PVC (polyvinyl chloride). In this case study, Hitachi Cable Manchester assesses both sides of the PVC controversy.

Overview

Hitachi Cable Manchester (HCM) produces a wide variety of copper and fiber-based data communication, telecommunication, industrial Ethernet, robotic and signal, and control cables. HCM’s 300,000 square feet facility, with state-of-the art manufacturing and engineering technology, produces both standardized and custom cable products, designed to meet each customer’s unique needs.

Hitachi Cable Manchester’s production

In this photo: Hitachi Cable Manchester’s production floor within their 300,000 square foot state-of-the –art facility.

The major issue that HCM has dealt with throughout its history involves the materials used to produce its cable products. Are these materials safe, in both short term and long term for human use? Just as in any other industry, material safety is at the forefront of development and innovation.

Joe Iamartino, Director of New Business Development at Hitachi Cable Manchester

Is the plastic cup you give to your child safe to drink from? What happens to a plastic bag after it is discarded? Does it become toxic as it deteriorates? When old PCs are disposed of, can the materials they’re made of, harm the environment if they are not disposed of properly? These are the kind of questions manufacturers and distributors deal with every day.

Joe Iamartino, Director of New Business Development at Hitachi Cable Manchester

HCM’s goal is to produce the next generation cable products for medical, telecom, computers, multimedia, and industrial solutions. Yet in many cases, there is no clear answer from the scientific community regarding safety of available material used to create these products. One of the biggest controversies is with HCM’s most widely used material – PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride).

Even though PVC is the most widely used cable insulating material in the world, there are some questions about its safety. Although extremely flame retardant, when PVC burns, it releases a toxic gas that can burn human lungs. Some PVC compounds may contain a material called phthalate. There have been studies indicating that if PVC is not disposed of properly, these phthalates can migrate into ground water and allegedly cause reproductive problems in both animals and humans.

Driving Innovation at Hitachi Cable, USA

In this video: Joe Iamartino, Director of New Business Development at Hitachi Cable Manchester discusses the leadership position of Hitachi Cable Manchester and how they adapt to the ever-changing technical environment. (0:48) (interviewed in May, 2011)

Continue reading this Hitachi case study in the next sections to find how Hitachi Cable Manchester assessed both sides of the PVC controversy.

Subject

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

PVC is a thermoplastic polymer widely used in construction because it is relatively inexpensive, durable, and easy to assemble. PVC can be made softer and more flexible by addition of plasticizers. Phthalates are one of the plasticizers that have been used in general purpose PVC, but on a very limited basis in wire and cable compounds.

PVC cable spools

In this photo: PVC cable spools within Hitachi Cable Manchester’s production floor.

For more than fifty years, PVC has been the preferred thermoplastic insulating and jacketing material for most indoor wiring and cable applications. It is widely used in telecommunication and data communication cables, which accounts for approximately 80% of all Hitachi Cable Manchester sales.

Why PVC and what are its benefits?

Why has PVC been the preferred insulator of the cable industry for so long?

Lynne Humenik, Executive Vice President at Hitachi Cable Manchester

PVC cables have a number of benefits. They provide strong electrical and insulation properties over a wide temperature range. They are inherently flame retardant, and possess excellent durability and long-life expectancy. They are cost effective, easy to process and recyclable. And they are also highly resistant to degradation by ultra violet light.

Lynne Humenik, Executive Vice President at Hitachi Cable Manchester

PVC Controversy: The Benefits of PVC, USA

In this video: Lynne Humenik, Executive Vice President for Hitachi Cable Manchester explains some of the reasons why PVC has been the preferred thermoplastic in the wire and cable industry. (0:26) (interviewed in May, 2011)

In the United States, cables must meet strict standards of flame resistance. NFPA 262, also known as the Plenum code, ensures that cable located in spaces that facilitate air circulation for heating and air conditioning systems meet strict adherence to fire safety standards. PVC is inherently flame retardant and is a perfect material for meeting the Plenum code.

Mike Patel, Industry Manager for wire and cable compounds within the Vinyl Division at Teknor Apex, discusses how PVC is a durable and versatile material that is inherently flame retardant. It is biologically and chemically resistant, and the addition of appropriate plasticizers, stabilizers and lubricants makes it well suited for wire and cable. The addition of flame retardants and smoke suppressants further enhance its safety value.

Continue reading this Hitachi case study in the next sections below to find how Hitachi Cable Manchester assessed both sides of the PVC controversy.

PVC Controversy: Making PVC Durable and Safe, USA

In this video: Mike Patel, Teknor Apex, explains how additives in PVC are continuing to evolve with raw materials that are more sustainable. (0:38) (interviewed in May, 2011)

Controversy

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.

PVC Controversy: How is PVC Different? USA

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

Brian Johnston and Mike Patel

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

PVC Controversy: US vs. EU Approaches, USA

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.

Mike Patel, Industry Manager at Teknor Apex

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

PVC Controversy: Lifecycle Assessment, USA

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.

Lynne Humenik, Executive Vice President at Hitachi Cable Manchester

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

PVC Controversy: What are the Alternatives? USA

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

Brian Johnston, Director of Engineering at Hitachi Cable Manchester

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

Outlook

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

It’s clear that with its RoHS directive, Europe has taken the lead on the elimination of hazardous substances. The controversy for PVC’s safety will most likely continue for years to come. Environmental Groups, who oppose the use of PVC, will continue to condemn PVC; while PVC advocates will continue to maintain that the material has been unfairly targeted by groups with unsubstantiated technical information. Today, existing scientific data such as Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) continue to support the safe use of PVC for all end user applications.

Assessment of the PVC Controversy, Part 1, USA

In this video: Brian Johnston discusses the RoHS initiative and the global regulations that have been developed as a derivative of the European Union standard. (0:55)

What is HCM’s final verdict on the PVC issue? It’s very simple. Through various studies on PVC, the global scientific community has arrived at the conclusion that modern PVCs are no more harmful than any other plastics currently in use. Hitachi Cable Manchester will build cables for customers using the safe plastics they desire – whether they use PVC or other materials.

Hitachi Cable in Manchester, New Hampshire.

In this photo: Hitachi Cable Manchester’s 300,000 square foot, state-of-the-art facility located in Manchester, New Hampshire.

Since 2005, Hitachi Cable Manchester has manufactured RoHS-compliant cables and cable products. In fact, HCM was one of the first cable manufacturers to become RoHS compliant across all our product lines. HCM’s commitment to the environment and policies that promote a healthier environment is unwavering. We also continue to evaluate non-halogen compounds such as TPO, polyolefins, TPUs, etc. We are committed to meet our social responsibilities, and promote environmental conservation by reducing any hazardous impact of products throughout their entire life cycle, states Humenik.

Assessment of the PVC Controversy, Part 2, USA

In this video: Joe Iamartino explains how Hitachi Cable Manchester responds to the PVC controversy by investing in material science to customize cable products for every need. (0:33)

Hitachi Cable Group has established the “Standards of Corporate Conduct”, clearly defining its mission and role in conducting business activities. These include “Action Guidelines for Environmental Conservation”, and promote Group activities as a whole by committing to active participation for environmental conservation.

To realize an environmentally harmonious and sustainable society through products and services, Hitachi Cable Group is committed to meet its social responsibilities by promoting globally-applicable “MONOZUKURI” (designing, manufacturing or repairing of products), which is aimed at reducing environmental burdens of products to ensure environmental conservation.

About Hitachi Cable Manchester

Hitachi Cable Manchester

Hitachi Cable Manchester, Inc. (HCM) is a manufacturer of copper premise cable, fiber optic cable, electronic round cable, electronic ribbon cable, and custom cable. Our cable products are designed and produced at our modern 300,000 square foot facility located in Manchester, New Hampshire. Our state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment and advanced engineering technology enables us to produce a wide range of products to meet all industry-standard cable and custom cable needs.

Hitachi Cable Manchester is a standards and technology based manufacturing company. Our cables are designed to exceed the most stringent ANSI, UL and CSA requirements. In addition, all of HCM premise and fiber optic cables comply with TIA and ISO telecommunications cabling standards. HCM is ISO 9001 registered and is a showcase example of a fully-automated cable manufacturing plant.

Update: In April 2012, Hitachi Cable Manchester merged with Hitachi Cable America Inc. To learn more, please visit Hitachi Cable America’s Performance Cable Systems division website.

About Teknor Apex

is a privately held company founded in 1924 and headquartered in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, USA. Teknor Apex manufactures for eight of their divisions at 8 locations in the U.S., and one each in Singapore, China, Belgium, and the United Kingdom. They are a diversified material science company, using complementary technologies to serve common markets. The following divisions have been the logical evolution of their growth:

  • Vinyl
  • Thermoplastic Elastomer
  • Nylon
  • Bioplastics
  • Teknor Color Company
  • Chemical
  • Toll and Specialty Compounding
  • Garden Hose

Customer

Teknor Apex

Industries

Diversified material science

Region

U.S.A.

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.