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Should PVC Be Phased Out?

Jun 25, 2023




Authors: Arshad M. Khan and Meena Miriam Yust

Six months ago (February 14, 2023), a 150-car freight train with 11 cars carrying hazardous chemicals including 115,580 gallons of vinyl chloride, derailed near East Palestine, Ohio. Fearing the worst, the experts on the scene, in their wisdom, decide to burn and release some of the chemicals into the air through a controlled explosion. Carried in five cars, the vinyl chloride gas remnants thus escaped into the air. Reported ill effects on close-by residents included rashes and headaches.

Inhaling such a gas is of course a risk but it can also convert to highly toxic phosgene, a gas causing an estimated 85 percent of the 91,000 gas deaths in WWI. So why is it being transported all the way from Deer Park, Texas to Ohio and beyond? Very simply because that is where some of the chemical plants producing PVC (polyvinyl chloride) plastic are located — in this case Fredericktown, New Jersey.

Production of vinyl chloride requires combining, at high temperature, chlorine with ethylene, obtained from oil. This is then polymerized to form PVC resin. The major producers of vinyl chloride are Occidental Chemical, Shintech, Westlake Chemical, Formosa Plastics and Orbia. Of these Oxy Vinyl, an Occidental Chemical subsidiary, produced the vinyl chloride in three of the rail cars that derailed and Shintech the PVC in another three.

The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) considers vinyl chloride a known carcinogen. Thus the fact that the community downwind was black adds a racial component to the tragedy.

Occidental Chemical reported releasing 59,679 pounds of vinyl chloride into the air from its plants in Texas, Niagara Falls (Canada) and New Jersey in 2021. In the same year, Shintech released 45,250 pounds from its plants in Louisiana and Texas. Thus many communities are being exposed daily to a deadly chemical that is a known carcinogen. All of which prompts the question, should PVC, a recognized poison plastic be banned?

If the community downwind from the train derailment was black, it is also a fact that local residents are predominantly low-income black people alongside vinyl chloride production facilities in Texas, Kentucky and along an 85-mile stretch of the Mississippi River in Louisiana. Cancer rates in the latter corridor are so much higher than the rest of the US that it is often called “Cancer Alley”.

The accident should also have brought some focus on a poorly maintained rail system where a train derails without any immediate cause. Judith Enck, president of ‘Beyond Plastics,’ an advocacy group, and a former regional administrator for the EPA, asks why toxic vinyl chloride should be transported at all across half the country on an obviously ‘rickety rail system.’ Profits appear to have priority over safety.

Another problem with PVC is that dioxins are formed when chlorine is burned during its production. These compounds can accumulate in human bodies and in the environment for years. They have been linked to heart disease, diabetes, nervous system disorders, and can also be endocrine disrupters interfering with the body’s hormones. Moreover, disposal of PVC waste in incinerators (20 million pounds in 2021) is highly suspect.

PVC plastic also contains toxic additives like lead, cadmium and phthalates, not just in pipes but, believe it or not, in credit cards and even in the quintessential children’s bath toy, the yellow rubber duck. Growing children are particularly vulnerable to toxic chemical exposure be it lead or something else.

At the very least, one is obliged to ask, is it simply time for an exhaustive study of PVC and its uses? And secondly, should stringent rules be enforced against its disposal in incinerators?

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Dr. Arshad M. Khan is a former Professor based in the US. Educated at King's College London, OSU and The University of Chicago, he has a multidisciplinary background that has frequently informed his research. Thus he headed the analysis of an innovation survey of Norway, and his work on SMEs published in major journals has been widely cited. He has for several decades also written for the press: These articles and occasional comments have appeared in print media such as The Dallas Morning News, Dawn (Pakistan), The Fort Worth Star Telegram, The Monitor, The Wall Street Journal and others. On the internet, he has written for, Asia Times, Common Dreams, Counterpunch, Countercurrents, Dissident Voice, Eurasia Review and Modern Diplomacy among many. His work has been quoted in the U.S. Congress and published in its Congressional Record.

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Sustainable development is a global momentum to realize human welfare using a triple bottom line approach that includes economic development, environmental improvement and preservation, and social inclusion (Sachs, 2012). Unfortunately, sustainable development practice is still hampered by the lack of consensus in strengthening cross-sectoral synergies and attention to environmental issues that are still sidelined. Ecological and environmental issues are the main obstacles that will continue to shackle the realization of sustainable development, regardless of the extent to which environmental sustainability targets can be set. The SDGs will only be achieved if the meaning of ecological sustainability is limited to the commitment to real action that can represent environmental concerns. In addition, synergy in realizing sustainable development is hampered by the transformation of policies relevant to environmental issues that are not carried out using a climate approach, coupled with the emergence of the practice of “ecological colonization,” which maps the interests of the Global North and Global South. Therefore, it is necessary to strengthen the commitment of international actors accompanied by concrete actions in mainstreaming environmental interests, strengthening development transformation with climate-based considerations, and strengthening the collaboration of developed and developing countries to minimize the environmental impact of ongoing development.

Strengthening the commitment and concrete actions of various international actors to realize environmental conservation is a major responsibility if sustainable development is to be fully realized. This is based on the fact that the development carried out by humans today depends on the environment. It cannot be denied that humans always need nature or the environment, so various development practices must consider ecological conditions so as not to cause losses in the long run. The country’s commitment to the synergy between climate action and sustainable development is increasingly significant. Unfortunately, this commitment has not been accompanied by strengthening climate action relevant to current environmental problems. Actions taken by states in realizing sustainable development tend to only strengthen synergies without considering trade-offs that can undermine effective policy implementation (Dzebo et al., 2018). This means that environmental considerations are often sacrificed to fulfill development. If the actions taken in sustainable development continue to be carried out like that, the triple bottom line approach cannot be realized because environmental aspects are often marginalized.

In realizing sustainable development, at least two main things include inclusive development and environmental sustainability to strengthen the resulting policies. The meaning can be recognized by opening space for all parties to actively participate in an inclusive and environmentally friendly development process (Silva, 2021). Suppose it is related to the SDG principle that every person and country is responsible for realizing universal, safe, just, and sustainable development. In that case, there is no exception to support the SDGs’ fulfillment actively. Regardless, the issue of environmental sustainability and environmental injustice that illustrates the segregation of environmental access and risks among broad social groups needs to be more focused (Filho et al., 2019). The aim is none other than to develop collective action of global actors who are more sensitive to the problem of environmental degradation. Thus, environmental concerns will be strengthened and become a momentum that can provide great significance in realizing sustainable development that is fully ecologically responsible.

At the domestic level of the country, to maximize commitment and concrete actions that support environmental preservation in sustainable development, it is necessary to integrate global, national, and sub-national policies. The intended integration aims to maximize the desired results of the development process that implements environmental values through the climate spectrum (Dzebo et al., 2018). In other words, the policies produced by the state not only show a commitment that the development carried out is minimal risk to the environment but has considered the extent of the impacts that can occur and can overcome these impacts significantly. This means that in the development process, the value of the environment should not be a marginalized aspect but rather the main aspect directly related to the development and determines whether a development will be effective.

In addition to strengthening the commitment and concrete actions of various actors to answer the obstacles in the sustainable development process, it is necessary to strengthen the transformation of climate-based development. The consideration is based on the current development conditions that are on two spectrums. First, a development that runs quickly tends to harm the environment. Second, a development with minimal environmental impact needs to be faster in its fulfillment. Therefore, the main key that can be carried out to support SDGs that are committed to the environment is through climate-based development transformation. One of the important transformations to be carried out is the development of the eco-environment, which is an important aspect of supporting human survival (Wei et al., 2022). Through the transformation of development based on the eco-environment, it is expected that development can go hand in hand with environmental sustainability so that it is no longer the main cause of degradation.

Eco-environment refers to the combination of people, resources, and various natural factors, including climate, water, soil, and vegetation, that play an important role in human development. In the view of eco-environment, economic and population growth leads to global warming and environmental degradation, which are the main challenges in achieving eco-development. Therefore, the priority is to emphasize the importance of environmental protection in development policies (Wei et al., 2022). The intended development transformation through the eco-environment is the appropriate use of biological resources without overexploiting them. Eco-environment also emphasizes the use of other environmentally friendly alternatives in supporting development. For example, the transformation to the use of renewable energy. Given that economic growth is also one of the three main approaches to be realized through the SDGs, it is inevitable that economic growth often has environmental implications. Therefore, through climate-based transformation, economic growth can be encouraged by shifting to renewable energy sources so that industrial and economic growth can continue to develop without climate implications (Ahmed et al., 2022).

In addition to the eco-environment approach, climate-based sustainable development transformation can be realized through several relevant practices. For example, the implementation of smart cities, whose mechanisms are carried out to improve industrial structures and technological advances in reducing pollution and realizing greening or green space coverage (Su et al., 2023). By implementing an environment-based smart city, sustainable development goals may be closer to achieving. Furthermore, the concept of environment-based smart cities can also adopt internet integration to encourage an innovative and greener economy in today’s digital era. China is one of the countries developing such innovations to minimize environmental pollution through technology and green economic development (Ren et al., 2022). If this transformation continues to be developed, its significance in realizing the SDGs will become more apparent. It can directly maximize the fulfillment of the triple bottom line, which includes economic development, environmental improvement and preservation, and social inclusion through environmentally friendly digital transformation. In its development, it is also important to pay attention to the transformation of the water and food sector, given its direct implications on public health (Filho et al., 2019). The key lies in sustainable development and environmental justice that takes climate change mitigation into account.

In order to overcome obstacles in the SDGs caused by ecological and environmental problems, it is necessary to strengthen collaboration between developed and developing countries. We understand that the SDGs encourage developed countries to assist developing countries in meeting the specified targets jointly. Nevertheless, there often needs to be more alignment between developed and developing countries in interpreting the SDGs. Developed countries are generally more significant in fulfilling the three pillars of the SDGs while developing countries focus on the economic and social pillars (Swain & Yang-Wallentin, 2020). This is certainly not without reason; on the one hand, developed countries are economically established, so they are more likely to adopt policies related to the environment. On the other hand, developing countries still in the economic development stage will need help to adopt the same environmental policies as developed countries. This problem is one of the main obstacles to realizing the SDGs because, despite developed countries’ commitment to assisting developing countries, there will always be a gap for both parties in the conflict.

When looking at the material footprint of environmental utilization from 1970 to 2017, high-income countries representing 16% of the global population were responsible for 74% of the resource use that led to environmental degradation. This fact indicates the existence of “ecological colonization” that harms developing countries both ecologically and economically (Richards, 2023). To avoid further inequality and disagreement between North and South countries, implementing the SDGs must strengthen coherent collaboration. North-South cooperation must be carried out non-discriminately and fairly under the SDGs agenda so that all parties are not excluded from the development stage. To realize the strengthening of North-South collaboration, it is important to pay attention to the gaps that may arise so that the partnership can be more transparent and provide mutual support (Blicharska et al., 2021). If North-South countries can maximize their collaboration, the fulfillment of sustainable development goals will be more realized.

From the explanation above, ecological and environmental problems are the main obstacles that will continue to shackle the realization of sustainable development. For this reason, it is necessary to strengthen three aspects to realize effective and efficient sustainable development. First, strengthening international actors’ commitment and real action to realize environmental conservation. Second, through strengthening the transformation of ecology-based development. The intended transformation is very relevant to the eco-environment approach, which emphasizes the use of environmentally friendly alternatives in supporting development and through various other transformations whose main consideration is environmental preservation. Third, through strengthening North-South collaboration in realizing sustainable development, previously hampered by the presence of “ecological colonization.” By strengthening these three aspects, obstacles caused by ecology and the environment can be minimized so that realizing the three main pillars of the SDGs, which include economic development, environmental improvement and preservation, and social inclusion, will be maximally realized.




In the midst of the ongoing environmental crisis, water scarcity has taken center stage. While heat-waves frequently end in torrential downpours and flash floods, rising temperatures have made water scarcity even worse, posing a serious threat to human lives. A compelling example of this phenomenon is the increasing frequency of extremely hot weather, which has been observed in places like Asia, Europe, and some parts of the United States. The other aspect of the water crisis, on the other hand, manifests as unprecedented-sized cyclones and floods, which tragically result in the deaths of thousands of people, extensive infrastructure damage, and a worsening of the economic woes of underdeveloped countries. In addition, priceless groundwater resources are becoming salinized as coastal communities are submerged by sea level rise brought on by global warming.

In the next ten years, the water crisis will likely be one of the biggest threats the world will have to deal with. Alarming data from the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that 4.2 billion people live in areas without adequate sanitation facilities, and that two billion people lack access to safe drinking water. The demand for potable water and sanitation is outpacing supply in the majority of developing countries at an alarming rate, which heightens the severity of the crisis. Moreover, global warming poses risks to all life on Earth, including the vast oceans that house over 95% of the planet’s freshwater. The rising temperatures within these massive bodies of water have led to an increase in atmospheric moisture content, which has led to heavy rainfall and intensified hurricanes and typhoons.

Contrarily, millions of people’s lives are currently in danger as Pakistan battles a severe water crisis. The combination of climatic vicissitudes, a growing population, and the appalling mismanagement of water resources is putting tremendous strain on the country’s water reservoirs. This upsetting combination has resulted in an alarming water shortage, which raises concerns about the possibility of things getting worse in the future. Pakistan is on the verge of an impending water catastrophe as a result of the crippling decline in per capita water availability, which has fallen by more than 80% over the past seven decades. It is crucial to understand that this issue extends its perilous influence into the social and economic spheres in addition to the ecological sphere.

However, the lack of access to potable water has been detrimental to the population’s health, education, and sustenance. Women and children living in rural hinterlands who must make difficult journeys in search of water are those who feel the effects of this adversity the most keenly. This demanding task takes up a lot of time, which significantly impedes their efforts to further their education and find employment. To address the escalating water crisis plaguing Pakistan, an urgent response is required.

The ineffectiveness of water management systems is inextricably linked to Pakistan’s water problems. Uneven access and distribution, a growing population, rapid urbanization, progressive industrialization, a lack of available storage space, and the looming threat of climate risks all combine to make water management a very difficult task. As a result of shifting weather patterns caused by climate change, it is now necessary to develop regionally specific solutions rather than using a general, one-size-fits-all approach to policy. The growing water demand in Pakistan makes it vulnerable to the effects of climate change, which necessitates immediate attention and site-specific, creative solutions. To secure the country’s water resources for a sustainable and resilient future, it is essential to overcome the water management intricacies with their variety of challenges and complexities.

Last but not least, the prudent management of water resources must be given top priority by the government, and significant funding must also be allocated for the nation’s water infrastructure to be strengthened. In order to achieve this, it is necessary to increase water storage capabilities, improve irrigation systems, and promote strict water conservation measures. In addition, strong measures should be taken to reduce water pollution, which is a significant factor in the occurrence of waterborne illnesses. Due to the complexity of Pakistan’s water crisis, an all-encompassing strategy is required, which calls for concerted cooperation between the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. These organizations have a responsibility to work together to ensure that water resources are adequate to meet the needs of the country’s population.




Under the beautiful iridescent Northern sky lies a haven for birds, a Paris of the avian world, its Eiffel Tower a beautiful lake, its accordion the sound of birdsong, its wine the emerald-green of the Northern lights. Birds flock from thousands of miles away to this nesting spot now commonly called ‘lover’s lane’ — it is where they raise their baby chicks. To them this is the only place, and none other quite like it in the whole world.

This honeymoon haven is in Alaska. A striking 600,000 shorebirds breed in the Teshekpuk Lake wetlands. It is the greatest breeding density known anywhere in the Arctic. And this area is under threat by Biden’s Willow oil drilling project.

Oil and gas drilling causes chronic stress in birds. The noise pollution changes corticosterone (stress hormone) levels the same way as humans with PTSD. Scientists have observed a linear relationship between stress hormone levels in birds and their distance from noisy gas drilling compressors. Perhaps even worse, in addition to a poor quality of life, nestling growth is stunted for those facing the environmental stress. So not only are the parents under stress on a par with PTSD, but baby chicks can not grow normally. This is true even at distances when the sound is less severe.

The effect on baby chicks is especially concerning when one considers drilling in an area in close proximity to a bird nesting haven. Numerous bird species on the Alaska Watch List nest or molt near the Teshekpuk Lake. Of special note are the Steelers Eider and Spectacle Eider, which are listed as threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The Teshekpuk Lake is nesting habitat for all four world eider species.

The sheer number of birds that depend on the region is astonishing, with up to 100,000 geese molting in the region each year, and 600,000 shorebirds breeding within the wetlands.

According to Audubon, about one-fifth of the world’s population of yellow-billed loons breed in Western and Northern Alaska. The yellow-billed loon has a near threatened status. A beautiful bird with a checkered back, white belly and yellow bill, these deep sea divers form long lasting pairs, like doves.

Other species besides our aviary friends stand to be harmed by the drilling as well, including polar bears and caribou. One would not be surprised if the noise also disturbed their lifestyle and reproduction.

Of course, chemical contamination is not uncommon near drilling sites, and this could have a devastating effect on all the inhabitants of the region, animals, birds, and humans. If a spill were to occur, it would be extremely difficult to recover from and could easily destroy populations. Because the region is so important to a vast number of species and is essential breeding ground, drilling nearby is extraordinarily foolhardy and risky.

Even without chemical contaminants, birds within earshot of the compressors will suffer reproductive setbacks due to the constant stress, as has been shown by scientists’ controlled experiments. Exposing hundreds of thousands of birds to permanent stress will cause stunted growth in the next generation.

Some people might believe this only affects Alaska, but the birds that you and I see and enjoy thousands of miles away – the geese, the ducks, the migratory birds – they will be affected, and we will see fewer and fewer of them if their reproductive success is disturbed by Willow’s drilling.

Of all places in the world to destroy, let’s not make the birds’ honeymoon haven one of them. We will notice the impacts for generations to come, when we look out the window and find the migratory birds who usually visit that time of year are simply no longer there.

Author’s Note: This piece first appeared in

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