A publication of Work On Waste USA, Inc., 82 Judson, Canton, NY 13617 315-379-9200 AUGUST 1995

Dioxins, PVC and Children

In our view, the single largest concern about dioxins and related compounds is that the largest doses are going first to the fetus in the womb and then to the breast-fed infant. No one should take lightly the fact that our youngest human beings are receiving the highest doses of what Dr. Linda Birnbaum of the U.S. EPA has described as “growth disregulators - the most potent ones we know.” (Health & Environment Digest, March 1992). In its manufacture and disposal via incineration, the plastic PVC (poly vinyl chloride), which contains over 50% by weight of chlorine, represents one of the largest sources of dioxin going into the environment (see Waste Nots 13,20,102,104,134,179,236-237,278-279,314). It is ironic, therefore, that some of the earliest toys that our children learn to cuddle and play with are made from PVC! While government and industrial officials are in a state of denial (the US EPA in its 1500 page Exposure document, published in September 1994 at the same time as its Dioxin Reassessment document, pays scant attention to PVC as a source of dioxin), those, who are concerned about the dioxin-PVC-chlorine connection, won an unexpected ally in their efforts to rid the world of this dioxin curse. On August 15, Waste Not received the following press release from Charlie Cray (312-235-5212) and Jackie Hunt Christensen (612-623-8269). Waste Not editors have been unable to reach “Cool Country Barbie“” directly for her comments!

BARBIETests PVC-Positive and
Vows to Save Other Dolls from Toxic Fate

After confronting Mattel customer service staff, “Cool Country Barbie,“” available at McDonald’s today, confirmed what she had long suspected: she is PVC (polyvinyl chloride) positive. Indeed, Mattel’s customer service representative stated that all Barbies“ are made of PVC. Upon hearing the news, Barbie vowed, “I will use my toxic fate to make sure that future generations of Barbies“ and other toys will be made without chlorine! The children who love me deserve toys that don’t leave a toxic legacy for the planet.”

Two of the chemicals involved in PVC production, ethylene dichloride and vinyl chloride monomer (VCM) are hazardous in and of themselves and create toxic by-products such as dioxin when they are produced. In the process of making VCM into polyvinyl chloride for Barbies or thousands of other uses, more dioxin and other toxic by-products are also likely to be produced. And because PVC contains so much chlorine, it can produce dioxin when it is incinerated or accidentally burned. Many of PVC’s additives and stabilizers, such as lead, cadmium, and phthalates, are hazardous as well.

Dioxin has been linked to a host of health effects, including various cancers, endometriosis, and problems with the body’s hormone system which regulates sexual development. Barbie“ said, “It all makes sense now -- my abnormal body proportions, the fact that my feet won’t stand flat. I’ll bet it has something to do with the PVC. I hope that Mattel will find a way to make future Barbies“ without chlorinated plastics so that they can have normal bodies! And since 1992, Mattel began a timetable to eliminate PVC from their packaging, I’m sure they’ll be willing to stop using PVC to make me. Also my friends at McDonalds’s have stopped using polystyrene foam, so I’m sure their concern for the environment will motivate them to encourage Mattel to change the materials used to produce me and the rest of the Barbie“ family.”

Backgrounder: PVC use has grown rapidly since World War II, when it gained popularity as a rubber substitute. It now accounts for 34 percent of chlorine usage1 and is used to produce a wide variety of consumer items, including toys like BARBIE“. Dioxin formation has been found at various stages of the PVC ‘life cycle,’ from the processing of ethylene dichloride (or 1,2, dichloroethane) into vinyl chloride monomer2 to disposal if the plastic is incinerated, as is especially common with medical waste. PVC is 57% chlorine3, so there is ample opportunity for dioxin formation. Recycling PVC is problematic, particularly because most PVC in commerce --including Barbie“, is not labeled. PVC is a common contaminant in plastics to be recycled, and its high chlorine levels may render polyethylene terephthalate (PET) or low-density polyethylene (LDPE) unrecyclable. PVC that is labeled is designated by the number “3.” Other than a message stating made for McDonald’s by Mattel in China, Barbies“ contained in “Happy Meals” are not labeled. When questioned by telephone about the Barbies“ included in “Happy Meals,” McDonald’s customer service staff did not know what Barbie“ is made of, but said she is not recyclable. On the other hand, Mattel, the makers of Barbie“, stated that she is made of PVC and recyclable -- although they did not provide any information as to where she could be recycled. Mattel has shown awareness about PVC in the past; their 1992 Annual Report states, “During 1992, dates were matched with objectives, and a timetable now exists for the elimination of the substance PVC (polyvinyl chloride) in packaging, the completion of environmental audits and the introduction of more environmentally friendly product. Mattel is doing its part to be a responsible corporate citizen, and to address children’s concerns about the future.” (p.22)


1. “Have Your PVC, and Dioxin Too,” Joel Bleifuss, In These Times, March 6, 1995, p 12.

2. PVC: A Primary Contributor to the U.S. Dioxin Burden, Pat Costner, Greenpeace, February 1995, p.1. (See also Waste Not #314).

3. Plastics: How Structure Determines Properties, Dr. Geza Gruenwald, Carl Hanser Verlag: New York, 1993, p. 101.

3rd Citizens’ Conference on Dioxin:
A Time for Action
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Friday March 15 through Sunday March 17, 1996

The primary organizers of the Conference are the Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN), NC WARN (North Carolina Waste Awareness and Reduction Network) and Waste Not. LEAN will be organizing the logistics of the Conference and playing host. They are already talking about a canoe/picnic in the Bayou on Friday night, a fun-filled entertainment session on Saturday night, as well as laying on free massage sessions for exhausted activists! NC WARN is organizing the fundraising for the Conference in its capacity as fiscal agent for the on-going entity ‘Citizens Conferences on Dioxin, Inc.,’ as well as being in overall charge of the budget. They are also lending us Jim Warren as the overall part-time co-ordinator of the event. Waste Not is looking after the agenda. To that end we are setting up a fairly large “Agenda Organizing Committee” to establish an agenda which takes into account a very broad range of interests involved or impacted by this issue. Over the next few months we will keep readers posted with developments and registration details.

WASTE NOT # 344. A publication of Work on Waste USA, published 48 times a year. Annual rates are: Groups & Non-Profits $50; Students & Seniors $35; Individual $40; Consultants & For-Profits $125; Canadian $US50; Overseas $70.

Editors: Ellen & Paul Connett, 82 Judson Street, Canton, New York 13617. Tel: 315-379-9200. Fax: 315-379-0448.