Vinyl is often referred to as the “infrastructure plastic,” and with good reason. Approximately 70 percent of PVC is used in building and construction applications. Vinyl is used so widely in the construction industry because of its durability, easy installation and cost-effectiveness.
The use of plasticizers differentiates flexible vinyl products from rigid. Generally speaking, PVC materials would be classified as rigid when plasticizers have not been added to the resin, such as pipe, siding, windows, and fence, deck and rail. PVC flooring, wallcovering and reflective roofing are classified as flexible, and are available in a multitude of styles and colors. Vinyl’s durability is an important environmental benefit, because the longer a product lasts, the less energy and other resources must be expended to make and install replacement products.
In applications from water delivery and sprinkler systems to sewage transport and DWV, Vinyl plays a critical role in providing reliable, durable piping service.
Piping is an important, functional part of most buildings. Although seldom seen, it is needed to deliver clean water for drinking and other purposes. It is also needed to convey waste water away from buildings for treatment and subsequent reuse. A variety of piping materials is available today. Foremost among them is polyvinyl chloride or PVC.
- The predominant material used in drain, waste and vent applications.
- Used extensively in cold water delivery systems to or for buildings.
- Formulated as chlorinated polyvinyl chloride (CPVC) pipe for use in hot and cold water delivery systems in buildings.
- Used in larger diameter piping applications outside buildings for water distribution and transmission, sanitary sewers, storm sewers and culverts and industrial piping systems.
- PVC pipe is available in a variety of lengths, diameters and pressure classes. It has a full complement of standard fittings, valves and couplings.
- And it is compatible with other pipe materials, so it can be specified for either new construction or system upgrades.
Some 2.6 trillion gallons of water are lost annually in the United States alone, primarily as a result of premature pipe corrosion leaks and breaks. This amount of lost water would satisfy the drinking water needs of every man, woman and child on earth for a year. The annual lost revenue to water utilities is estimated to total $2.98 billion.
The aging and deteriorating U.S. water infrastructure consists mostly of cast iron and ductile iron pipe. Highly susceptible to corrosion, these systems account for hundreds of water main breaks a day throughout North America. A solution to this problem is PVC pipe [hyperlink to PVC Pipe fact sheet].
The largest amount of vinyl resin [hyperlink to ACC resin chart] produced in the United States goes into PVC pipe. Being immune to corrosion and its overall durability has made PVC pipe a popular choice for clean water distribution systems, and sanitary collection of waste water.
PVC pipe accounts for more than 70 percent of new buried water distribution pipes being installed in the United States and Canada. More than 75 percent of newly installed sanitary sewer systems feature PVC pipe.
Municipalities also are finding that PVC can be a benefit in pipe rehabilitation.
A new the ANSI/NSF 61-certified PVC water line renewal system is making the traditional dig-and-replace method obsolete. PVC liners can be inserted through existing lines, with minimal excavation, then pumped through with hot water to make the liners expand and mold to the old lines’ interiors.
But perhaps even more important, water utility managers who have chosen PVC are leaving a legacy of good stewardship for future generations. By increasing the useful life of new infrastructure, a utility will eventually relieve future managers, water system ratepayers and even the federal government from the burden of constant system repair and replacement. By selecting PVC product with a predicted life exceeding 100 years [hyperlink to USU Pipe study in resources section}, the replacement crisis systems currently face every 20 to 30 years will be a thing of the past.
Without doubt, the materials used in electrical applications like building and communications wire, fiber optic cabling and conduit must attain high standards of reliability and safety. Vinyl is the material used most frequently in wire and cable insulation and jacketing, as well as in rigid nonmetallic (NM) conduit and cable management systems.
Electrical and communications wiring can easily be called a building’s nervous system. With few exceptions, reliable wiring is crucial to the day-to-day activities that go on within any home or building, especially with our dependence on computers and the Internet. At the same time, the electrical currents that enter and leave buildings can be quite dangerous, so the safety performance of electrical products must be a top priority.
Wire and cable constructions range from the simple – such as building wire – to the complex – such as power cable – with a carefully selected combination of materials that insulate the conductor. These layers are essential to electrical reliability and safety, protecting the conductor from moisture, dirt and damage. Flexible vinyl is the material most commonly used in each of these insulation components; in fact, 55 to 60 percent of all wires and cables are manufactured using vinyl. At the same time, rigid vinyl is widely used in conduit, electrical switch boxes, raceways and other cable management products.
Although vinyl electrical components are frequently used in conjunction with other materials, vinyl brings many important safety and performance characteristics to any wire or cable construction. For example, vinyl electrical products provide excellent properties at low cost, and are particularly well suited to meet the concurrent electrical and fire safety requirements that contribute to life safety in building design.
Behind walls, under floors, underground and on the roof, electrical and communications wires and cables are constantly subjected to some of the toughest conditions – such as exposure to the elements and dampness – in buildings and industrial settings.
The performance standards set for these products by the National Electrical Code are extremely stringent, considered by some to be the toughest in the world. Vinyl has met the high standards required by specifiers and building owners for more than 50 years and today is one of the most widely used and most trusted electrical materials.
For more than 50 years, vinyl’s performance and protectiveness have made it a critical material in such health care products and procedures as blood and intravenous bags, kidney dialysis and blood transfusions, cardiac catheters and endotracheal tubes. These products are regulated for safety by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Vinyl’s unique characteristics meet the health care industry’s tough performance standards while also being durable, easily sterilized and non-breakable. Indeed, no other material on the market performs as well or as cost effectively as vinyl.
Vinyl is used in hundreds of medical products and devices. In fact, 25 percent of all medical products containing plastic are made with vinyl, and even more applications are continually being developed.
Some of the most prevalent uses include:
Vinyl Characteristics that make it uniquely suited to medical use:
- It is optically clearer than many alternatives.
- It is kink-resistant. Alternatives frequently kink when bent to angles of 90 degrees or more, which can cut off the flow of blood or vital fluids to a patient if left undetected for any length of time.
- It resists “necking down” – that is, constricting when pulled. Vinyl alternatives can neck down when inadvertently stretched, which can result in a changed inner tubing diameter that affects the fluid delivery rate.
- Medical kits made of vinyl are factory assembled using a technique known as solvent cementing, in which tubing is locked to its connectors and ports by a solvent that evaporates after application. Most PVC substitutes cannot be bonded this way. If joints yank loose and leaks occur, patients can be exposed to flow interruptions, and care givers can be exposed to potentially contagious body fluids.
- Vinyl medical products can also be steam-sterilized and frozen. And, they are tough enough to be air-dropped onto a battlefield for use by troops on the move.
Flexibility is a key performance attribute of vinyl medical products, requiring the use of a plasticizer. Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) is the plasticizer most often used (although not the only one available) to make vinyl flexible. DEHP allows vinyl to be softened and shaped into many designs without cracking or leaking. Without plasticizers such as DEHP, many of the vinyl medical products doctors and nurses use every day would not exist.
However, because DEHP is not an integral part of the PVC polymer matrix, it can be extracted from vinyl devices that come into contact with fluids such as blood, plasma, and other solutions. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers this phenomenon when it evaluates medical devices. The FDA conducted a safety review of DEHP and found “little or no risk” to most patients receiving the majority of procedures involving DEHP-plasticized medical products. The FDA cautioned doctors and nurses about exposure to phthalates in certain patient populations, such as premature male infants undergoing continuous blood oxygenation therapy.
The agency noted that it had not received reports of harm from such uses of vinyl medical products (widely used for decades) and also cautioned not to forego life-saving procedures using vinyl products, noting “the risks of not doing a needed procedure is far greater than the risk associated with exposure to DEHP.”
Vinyl medical products can be handled like other medical wastes at the end of their lives, whether that means sterilizing and landfill or incineration. If they are incinerated, vinyl products are not a unique source of dioxin, which can be created when most things burn, including wood, food and garbage as well as vinyl.
Dioxin is formed when chlorine or chlorides are present during combustion. Studies have shown that when burning is well controlled as it is in modern incinerators, very little dioxin is made or emitted.
For example, a 1995 study sponsored by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), involving the analysis of more than 1,900 test results from 169 large-scale commercial incinerator facilities throughout the world, found no relationship between the chlorine content of waste like vinyl and dioxin emissions from combustion processes under real-life conditions.
The amount of chlorine or vinyl going into the incinerator is not a reliable indicator of the amount of dioxin coming out. Rather, incinerator design and operation have far more important impacts. However, in uncontrolled burning (e.g., volcanoes, forest fires, old incinerators, backyard burn barrels and accidental building fires), dioxin can be formed in larger amounts.
The best news about dioxin is that emissions to the environment and levels in the environment have been declining for decades, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This has happened even as vinyl production and use have soared.
Vinyl is an excellent material for packaging because it is safe, sturdy, economical, easily manufactured and environmentally responsible. In rigid or flexible form, vinyl is used to package a wide range of products, including electronics, personal care products, medicine, health care devices, household goods, toys, food and liquids.
Flexible vinyl is used for food wrap, jar lids and can linings; for tamper-proofing over-the-counter medications, and for shrink-wrapping games, software and household goods.
Vinyl plays a critical role in helping make modern transportation automobiles safe, easy to maintain, cost effective and of high quality, while also reducing their impact on the environment.
Among the uses for vinyl in cars, planes, buses and trains are body side moldings, windshield system components, interior upholstery and flooring, under-the-hood electrical wiring, under-the-car abrasion coatings, floor mats; adhesives and sealants; other components such as dashboards, tray tables and arm rests.
Vinyl is used in many transportation applications because the material is so durable and easy to clean – especially in public transportation where infection control is critical.