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Vinyl chloride & plastic odor exposure health effects: This article (part 3) discusses possible health effects of exposure to plastic or vinyl odors and outgassing in building interiors and gives references to more scholarly information sources. This article also discussed the health hazards from general exposure to burned plastics or plastic odors.
To improve clarity and provide public information we include here information from several US government sources including the US EPA and the US ATSDR, Department of health and Human Services, Agency for Toxic substances and Disease Registry.
Our page top photo shows our client pointing to a window where occupants suspected an unpleasant "plastic" odor was originating. But notice that this is an older wooden sash. Also notice those vinyl plastic curtains on either side of the window?
Health Effects of Exposure to General "Plastic" Odors or "Vinyl" Odors in the Home
A single small exposure [to vinyl chloride] from which a person recovers quickly is unlikely to cause delayed or long-term effects. Exposure to vinyl chloride over many years can affect the liver, nervous system, and skin. Long-term exposure can cause a rare form of liver cancer.
There is no antidote for vinyl chloride, but its effects can be treated and most exposed persons recover completely. Persons who have inhaled large amounts of vinyl chloride might need to be hospitalized.-- ATSDR
The primary target of vinyl chloride acute exposure is the CNS. Signs and symptoms include dizziness, ataxia, inebriation, fatigue, numbness and tingling of the extremities, visual disturbances, coma, and death.
Vinyl chloride can irritate the eyes, mucous membranes, and respiratory tract. Escaping compressed gas or liquid can cause frostbite or irritation of the skin and eyes.
Chronic exposure can cause permanent liver injury and liver cancer, neurologic or behavioral symptoms, and changes to the skin and bones of the hand.
Vinyl chloride's acute CNS effects are likely to be caused by interaction of the parent compound with neural membranes. Other effects appear to be caused by interaction of reactive intermediates with macromolecules.-- ATSDR
Acute Exposure Exposure to Vinyl Chloride
Vinyl chloride is thought to depress the CNS via a solvent effect on lipids and protein components of neural membranes that interrupts signal transmission. Reactive metabolic intermediates may also cause specific target organ toxicity by covalently bonding to tissue or initiating destructive chain reactions such as lipid peroxidation. There may be a latent period of hours to days between exposure and symptom onset. Vinyl chloride is rapidly metabolized and the metabolites are eliminated in the urine.
Children do not always respond to chemicals in the same way that adults do. Different protocols for managing their care may be needed.-- ATSDR
Chronic Exposure to Vinyl Chloride
Prolonged absorption of vinyl chloride can induce hepatotoxicity and hepatic cancers, including angiosarcoma. Portal hypertension and cirrhosis can occur.
Vinyl chloride toxicity is thought to result from the binding of reactive epoxide metabolites to hepatic DNA. Other effects of chronic exposure include sensory-motor polyneuropathy; pyramidal, extrapyramidal, and cerebellar abnormalities; neuropsychiatric symptoms such as sleep disorders, loss of libido, headaches, and irritability; EEG alterations; and immunopathologic phenomena such as purpura and thrombocytopenia.
Vinyl chloride disease is a syndrome consisting of Raynaud's phenomenon, acroosteolysis (dissolution of the bones of the terminal phalanges and sacroiliac joints), and scleroderma-like skin changes.-- ATSDR
Vinyl Chloride Exposure - Additional Opinions
The following opinion is not part of the original US EPA Article on vinyl chloride odors, exposure, and hazards shown above.
The jury may be out on the question of health effects of residential exposure to various smells and odors such as the "plastic smell" we discuss
at VINYL SIDING or WINDOW PLASTIC ODORS .
Plastics are used in an enormous range of building materials and consumer products, and plastics vary widely in their properties, chemical composition, tendency to give off gases, smells, odors, and in possible health concern.
One of the plastics that has received a lot of study are those using vinyl chloride. This product might be present in some common building products such as vinyl siding and vinyl windows or screens. The US EPA has classified vinyl chloride as a Group A, human carcinogen. Vinyl chloride might be present in gas form as a colorless, flammable gas with a faintly sweet odor at levels of about 3000 ppm (the odor detection threshold). Vinyl chloride hazards are discussed
at VINYL CHLORIDE HEALTH INFO.
Because people's sensitivity to smells and odors varies widely, as does their individual health, genetics, and vulnerability, we do not offer an opinion about the actual level of risk associated with odors that individuals perceive in a building.
When readers discuss exposure to various sources of odors, some of which might be unsafe, we
Put basic safety first: assure that where life and safety concerns are present, an building owner or occupant should be sure not to let worry about a less-likely hazard, even one that deserves remediation, distract attention from other more immediate, serious, and high probability hazards (fire, electrical shock, falling, smoking, failure to wear a seat belt when in a vehicle, dangerous behaviors).
Do not react inappropriately out of panic. Be careful about and to whom we express concerns: some contractors and consultants are understandably likely to give advice which is safest (for them) and sometimes profitable (for them) at the cost to the consumer.
Obtain accurate health and exposure information wherever possible, relying on peer-reviewed, academic, and professional sources that minimize or have no conflicts of interest in the information they provide.
Consult with your doctor about exposure to vinyl chloride or other gases, chemicals, or contaminants. ATSDR has provided this excellent Vinyl Chloride Exposure Questionnaire [PDF] that you can complete and take to your physician.
With many substances, people are able to detect by smell a substance at very low actual concentrations. It is possible that people detect smells or odors at levels well below currently-established levels of hazard, even if risk levels have been established for the particular chemical or chemical group.
Where chemical or plastic smells are observed in a building, many readers and some experts take an approach of prudent avoidance that includes identifying and correcting the odor source and improving indoor air quality with introduction of outdoor fresh air when that is practical.
Where serious illness or major expenses are involved with exposure to a particular indoor gas or odor, expert inspection and tests can be performed by various building experts including environmental inspectors and industrial hygienists. We advise against simple "air tests" alone as without a diagnostic inspection, even if a troublesome level of exposure is detected the building owners or occupants may be left without an actual plan of action.
Vinyl Chloride (CHCl) Patient Information Sheet - ATSDR
This handout, provided by ATSDR provides information and follow-up instructions for persons who have been exposed to vinyl
What is vinyl chloride?
Vinyl chloride is a colorless gas at room temperature that has a mild, sweet odor. It is handled and shipped
as a liquid under high pressure in a special container. It is used to produce polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a plastic
material used to make many products, including automotive parts, furniture, and building materials.
What immediate health effects can be caused by exposure to vinyl chloride?
Inhaling vinyl chloride causes sleepiness and dizziness, and can cause loss of consciousness. If pressurized
liquid vinyl chloride escapes from its container and comes in contact with the skin or eyes, it can cause
frostbite or irritation.
Can vinyl chloride poisoning be treated?
There is no antidote for vinyl chloride, but its effects can be treated and most exposed persons recover
completely. Persons who have inhaled large amounts of vinyl chloride might need to be hospitalized.
Are any future health effects likely to occur?
A single small exposure from which a person recovers quickly is unlikely to cause delayed or long-term
effects. Exposure to vinyl chloride over many years can affect the liver, nervous system, and skin. Long-term
exposure can cause a rare form of liver cancer.
What tests can be done if a person has been exposed to vinyl chloride?
Specific tests for the presence of vinyl chloride in the breath or breakdown products in the urine are available,
but they must be performed shortly after exposure and are not generally helpful. If a severe exposure has
occurred, blood and other tests might show whether the liver or other organs have been damaged. Testing
is not needed in every case.
Where can more information about vinyl chloride be found?
If the exposure happened at work, you might be required to contact your employer and the Occupational
Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Employees may request a Health Hazard Evaluation from the
national Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
You can get more information about vinyl chloride from your regional poison control center; your state,
county, or local health department; the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR); your
doctor; or a clinic in your area that specializes in occupational and environmental health. Ask the person who
gave you this form for help locating these telephone numbers.
Patient Information Sheet 17, Vinyl Chloride
Keep this page and take it with you to your next appointment. Follow only the instructions checked below.
[ ] Call your doctor or the Emergency Department if you develop any unusual signs or symptoms within the
next 24 hours, especially:
dizziness, disorientation, drowsiness, or headaches
burning of skin or eyes
nausea or loss of appetite
[ ] No follow-up appointment is necessary unless you develop any of the symptoms listed above.
[ ] Call for an appointment with Dr. in the practice of .
When you call for your appointment, please say that you were treated in the Emergency Department at
Hospital by and were advised to
be seen again in days.
[ ] Return to the Emergency Department/ Clinic on (date) at
AM/PM for a follow-up examination.
[ ] Do not perform vigorous physical activities for 1 to 2 days.
[ ] You may resume everyday activities including driving and operating machinery.
[ ] Do not return to work for days.
[ ] You may return to work on a limited basis. See instructions below.
[ ] Avoid exposure to cigarette smoke for 72 hours; smoke may worsen the condition of your lungs.
[ ] Avoid drinking alcoholic beverages for at least 24 hours; alcohol may worsen injury to your
stomach or have other effects.
[ ] Avoid taking the following medications:
[ ] You may continue taking the following medication(s) that your doctor(s) prescribed for you:
[ ] Other instructions:
Provide the Emergency Department with the name and the number of your primary care physician so that
the ED can send him or her a record of your emergency department visit.
You or your physician can get more information on the chemical by contacting:
or , or by checking out the following Internet
How to Link to this article - copy and paste the link code just below:
Plastic odors and the detection & source-diagnosis of many common odor sources observed some installations of vinyl exterior building siding or in other plastic or vinyl building products such as windows and trim are discussed at VINYL SIDING or WINDOW PLASTIC ODORS.
For a more broad approach to diagnosing building odor sources,
What are the health hazards of exposure to burned plastic & plastic odors in general?
Reader question: we had a stainless steel pot with a lid on it in the oven baking @ 250 degrees . There are black handles on this pot which are good in the oven to 350 degrees. We left the house and came home 2 hours later to a strong burning smell in the house.
The oven had pf in the control window which stands for program failure. The black handles looked as though they had been burnt. We opened the windows and turned the whole house fan on to ventilate. The odor has decreased but is still here three days later. Do you know if this is a health hazard? Thanks. - B.VSN 1/23/2014
Reply: the effects of burned plastic products in indoor air, in building fires, or in the atmosphere
I do not know and no one should assert that there is a health hazard from a smell in a building based on only an email exchange - as there is too much at risk: your health, your money for two.
But in my OPINION particles or chemicals/gases in air from burnt plastics are certainly capable of being respiratory irritants and might be hazardous.
For working purposes I am guessing that the plastic handles on your pot were a form of bakelite or similar plastic. As Sylvester-Bradley point out in an article focused principally on PVC risks,
The first truly synthetic plastic was created in 1907 by Leo Baekeland [Katz (1984)] from phenol formalde-
hyde and christened ‘bakelite’which is now known to degrade into acrylonitrile, butadiene, styrene,
cyanide and nitrous oxides which include irritants, suspected carcinogens and toxic respiratory system irritants [CAW (2003)].
Really?: from simply an email report and without actual expert assessment, one does not know the level nor exposure level of building occupants to this burned plastic odor contaminant and thus cannot reliably assess the actual risk.( Some of the sources cited below will surely recommend prudent avoidance. )
Often when there has been a fire of any sort in a building - burned pot or otherwise - the odors are absorbed by soft goods (carpets, curtains etc) that can be cleaned. If airing out the building is not enough you might want to see
our SMELL PATCH TEST to Track Down Odors to figure out which items need special attention.
Here are some interesting citations reviewing the effects of burned plastic products in indoor air, in building fires, or in the atmosphere
Ables, Elden, Richard Bionta, Harlan Olson, Linda Ott, Eric Parker, Douglas Wright, and Craig Wuest. "ABS plastic RPCs." In Proceedings of the International Workshop on Resistive Plate Chambers and Related Detectors, Pavia p. 373. 1995. [Obsolte postscript file, hard to open, excerpting from search results:
... we were interested in materials with resistivities lower than the standard bakelite
bulk resistivity of 1010-1011 ... Some materials heated up and melted un- der high voltage. ...
Furthermore, because of the toxic fumes that it emits when burned, PVC poses an ES&H hazard
ALLEN, EG. "Plastic Materials and Fire Hazards (SEE PAGE 32)."]
Kampa, Marilena, and Elias Castanas. "Human health effects of air pollution." Environmental Pollution 151, no. 2 (2008): 362-367.
Sylvia Katz 1984
Thames and Hudson, London
Simoneit, Bernd RT, Patricia M. Medeiros, and Borys M. Didyk. "Combustion products of plastics as indicators for refuse burning in the atmosphere." Environmental science & technology 39, no. 18 (2005): 6961-6970.
Sylvester-Bradley, Oliver. "Pernicious Plastics and the Precautionary Principle." [PDF] - quoting from search results: 'bakelite' which is now known to degrade into acrylonitrile, butadiene, styrene ...
a suspected endocrine disruptors and carcinogen ) and nylon (toxic if burnt ). Retrieved 1/23/2014, original source http://www.defactodesign.com/sites/default/files/Pernicious-plastics.pdf
Tsydenova, Oyuna, and Magnus Bengtsson. "Chemical hazards associated with treatment of waste electrical and electronic equipment." Waste Management 31, no. 1 (2011): 45-58.
Zapp Jr, John A. "Toxic and health effects of plastics and resins." Archives of Environmental Health: An International Journal 4, no. 3 (1962): 335-346.
HAZARD, FIRE. "THE HAZARDS OF SYNTHETIC PLASTICS." (1951). (J Wiley online library)
Watch out: Vinyl chloride might be present in gas form as a colorless, flammable gas with a faintly sweet odor at levels of about 3000 ppm (the odor detection threshold). We provide the US EPA health report on vinyl chloride at VINYL CHLORIDE HEALTH INFO - link given just below.
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Questions & answers or comments about the building code or functional requirement for air barriers and moisture barriers behind vinyl siding.
Use the "Click to Show or Hide FAQs" link just above to see recently-posted questions, comments, replies, try the search box just below, or if you prefer, post a question or comment in the Comments box below and we will respond promptly.
Hazard Summary-Created in April 1992; Revised in January 2000," US EPA, available at epa.gov/ttn/uatw/hlthef/vinylchl.html
Asthma Citation: Bornehag, CG, et al. “Allergic symptoms and asthma among children are associated with phthalates in dust from their homes: a nested casecontrol study,” Environmental Health Perspectives. 15 July 2004
HCL (hydrochloric acid) Toxicity Citation: OEHHA(CA Office of Environmental Health Assessment) Acute Toxicity Summary: Hydrogen Chloride March 1999
American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH). 1999 TLVs and BEIs. Threshold Limit Values for Chemical Substances and Physical Agents, Biological Exposure Indices. Cincinnati, OH. 1999.
"Blue Vinyl", (movie), BLUE VINYL TOXIC COMEDY PICTURES, 77 Bleecker St #C218, New York, NY 10012 Phone: 212.875.0456 Fax: 646.290.9274
Screening information: email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Co-Director/Co-Producer Judith Helfand Judith@bluevinyl.org, Co-Dir/Co-Producer/D.P.
Dan Gold, Dan@bluevinyl.org, Co-Producer Julie Parker, Julie@bluevinyl.org - from the film's website: A Toxic Comedy Look at Vinyl, The World's Second Largest Selling Plastic. With humor, hope and a
piece of vinyl siding firmly in hand, Peabody Award-winning filmmaker Judith Helfand and co-director Daniel B. Gold travel from Helfand’s hometown to America’s vinyl manufacturing capital and beyond in search of answers about the nature of polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Her parents’ decision to “re-side”
their house with this seemingly benign cure-all for many suburban homes turns into a toxic odyssey
with twists and turns that most ordinary homeowners would never dare to take. The result is a humorous
but sobering and uniquely personal exploration of the relationship between consumers and industry in the feature-length documentary BLUE VINYL, which won the cinematography award in the documentary competition at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival BLUE VINYL also poses a refreshingly simple question: “Is it possible to make products that never hurt anyone at any point of their life cycle—when manufactured, when used, or when disposed of?"
Vinyl acetate information: not to be confused with vinyl chloride
information from OSHA: see osha.gov/SLTC/healthguidelines/vinylacetate/recognition.html includes exposure limits and hazard description.
data sheet from DOW chemical: see dow.com/productsafety/finder/vinyl.htm
Medical Management Guidelines
Vinyl Chloride(C2H3Cl) - PDF from the US ATSDR, Department of health and Human Services, Agency for Toxic substances and Disease Registry, atsdr.cdc.gov/MHMI/mmg20.html. ATSDR can tell you where to find occupational and environmental health clinics. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry,
Division of Toxicology and Environmental Medicine,
1600 Clifton Road NE, Mailstop F-32,
Atlanta, GA 30333, 800-CDC-INFO • 888-232-6348 (TTY),
"Siding With Vinyl", Vinyl Siding Institute, a vinyl building products industry association, National Housing Center, 120115th Street NW, Suite 220, Washington, DC 20005 - www.vinylsiding.org
Thanks to reader Uri Dekel, Ph.D. for discussing PVC hazards and building odors 4/12/2010
EPA Article References
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). Toxicological Profile for Vinyl Chloride (Update). Public Health Service, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Atlanta, GA. 1997.
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). Case Studies in Environmental Medicine. Vinyl Chloride Toxicity. Public Health Service, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Atlanta, GA. 1990.
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). Toxicological Profile for Trichloroethylene. Public Health Service, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Atlanta, GA. 1992.
J.E. Amoore and E. Hautala. Odor as an aid to chemical safety: Odor thresholds compared with threshold limit values and volatilities for 214 industrial chemicals in air and water dilution. Journal of Applied Toxicology, 3(6):272-290. 1983.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Registry of Toxic Effects of Chemical Substances (RTECS, online database). National Toxicology Information Program, National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD. 1993.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Hazardous Substances Data Bank (HSDB, online database). National Toxicology Information Program, National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD. 1993.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Health Effects Assessment Summary Tables. FY1997 Update. Environmental Criteria and Assessment Office, Office of Health and Environmental Assessment, Office of Research and Development, Cincinnati, OH. 1997.
American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH). 1999 TLVs and BEIs. Threshold Limit Values for Chemical Substances and Physical Agents, Biological Exposure Indices. Cincinnati, OH. 1999.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Occupational Safety and Health Standards, Toxic and Hazardous Substances. Code of Federal Regulations 29 CFR 1910.1017. 1998.
California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA). Technical Support Document for the Determination of Noncancer Chronic Reference Exposure Levels. Draft for Public Comment. Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, Berkeley, CA. 1997
Books & Articles on Building & Environmental Inspection, Testing, Diagnosis, & Repair
The Home Reference Book - the Encyclopedia of Homes, Carson Dunlop & Associates, Toronto, Ontario, 25th Ed., 2012, is a bound volume of more than 450 illustrated pages that assist home inspectors and home owners in the inspection and detection of problems on buildings. The text is intended as a reference guide to help building owners operate and maintain their home effectively. Field inspection worksheets are included at the back of the volume. Special Offer: For a 10% discount on any number of copies of the Home Reference Book purchased as a single order. Enter INSPECTAHRB in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space. InspectAPedia.com editor Daniel Friedman is a contributing author.
Or choose the The Home Reference eBook for PCs, Macs, Kindle, iPad, iPhone, or Android Smart Phones. Special Offer: For a 5% discount on any number of copies of the Home Reference eBook purchased as a single order. Enter INSPECTAEHRB in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space.
Carson Dunlop, Associates, Toronto, have provided us with (and we recommend) Carson Dunlop Weldon & Associates' Technical Reference Guide to manufacturer's model and serial number information for heating and cooling equipment Special Offer: Carson Dunlop Associates offers InspectAPedia readers in the U.S.A. a 5% discount on any number of copies of the Technical Reference Guide purchased as a single order. Just enter INSPECTATRG in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space.
Kansas State University, department of plant pathology, extension plant pathology web page on wheat rust fungus: see http://www.oznet.ksu.edu/path-ext/factSheets/Wheat/Wheat%20Leaf%20Rust.asp
"A Brief Guide to Mold, Moisture, and Your Home",
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency US EPA - includes basic advice for building owners, occupants, and mold cleanup operations. See http://www.epa.gov/mold/moldguide.htm
US EPA - Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Building [Copy on file at /sickhouse/EPA_Mold_Remediation_in_Schools.pdf ] - US EPA
US EPA - Una Breva Guia a Moho - Hongo [Copy on file as /sickhouse/EPA_Moho_Guia_sp.pdf - en Espanol
Allergies, Allergens, Allergy Testing in Buildings - References & Products
Allergen Tests in Buildings advice about how to test, what to look for, in evaluating the level of dog, cat, or other animal allergens in a building
"IgG Food Allergy Testing by ELISA/EIA, What do they really tell us?" Sheryl B. Miller, MT (ASCP), PhD, Clinical Laboratory Director, Bastyr University Natural Health Clinic - ELISA testing accuracy: Here is an example of Miller's critique of ELISA
http://www.betterhealthusa.com/public/282.cfm - Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients
The critique included in that article raises compelling questions about IgG testing assays, which prompts our interest in actually screening for the presence of high levels of particles that could carry allergens - dog dander or cat dander in the case at hand.
http://www.tldp.com/issue/174/IgG%20Food%20Allergy.html contains similar criticism in another venue but interestingly by the same author, Sheryl Miller. Sheryl Miller, MT (ASCP), PhD, is an Immunologist and Associate Professor of Basic and Medical Sciences at Bastyr University in Bothell, Washington. She is also the Laboratory Director of the Bastyr Natural Health Clinic Laboratory.
Allergens: Testing for the level of exposure to animal allergens is discussed at http://www.animalhealthchannel.com/animalallergy/diagnosis.shtml (lab animal exposure study is interesting because it involves a higher exposure level in some cases
Allergens: WebMD discusses allergy tests for humans at webmd.com/allergies/allergy-tests
Animal Allergens: Dog, Cat, and Other Animal Dander - Cleanup & Prevention Information for Asthmatics and regarding Indoor Air Quality.
Recognizing Allergens: What various indoor allergens look like - identification photos to help identify pollen, dust mites, animal dander, toxic or allergenic mold - Common Mold and other Allergens, Irritants, Remedies & Advice
Rodent control issues, including dander, fecal, and urine contamination of Buildings and Building insulation are discussed at our