Vinyl Siding Health Dangers

There are some potential risks involved with vinyl siding, but they are probably a concern only after a house fire.

Posted by Cris Carl | May 16, 2010
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Is it safe to install vinyl siding? An expert on green building reports that while vinyl can be a dangerous material, there is little credible research regarding the effects of vinyl siding on humans. "The impact is more in the manufacture and disposal [of vinyl or PVC products]," said Greg Caplan, owner of Living Structures Inc., Jamaica Plain, MA.

Vinyl has been documented by the Environmental Protection Agency and other health organizations as containing a known carcinogen (dioxin) and various hormone disrupters. In addition, lead (one of the known health dangers) is often used as a stabilizing agent in the production of vinyl siding products.

The Real Danger of Vinyl Siding

Even a small house fire that affects the vinyl siding will lead to the release of a host of health dangers due to toxic chemicals known to severely damage lung and kidney tissue. "Your biggest concern is if the house catches fire. Even the ash is dangerous," said Caplan. He added that the binders in vinyl siding are also affected by ultraviolet light and oxidation. "We see that with all kinds of plastics," he said.

That said, heat and severe weather may have also played a part in numerous reports in 2006 of illnesses affecting Hurricane Katrina evacuees who were placed in FEMA trailers. Most, if not all of the trailers were vinyl-sided. People working in or living near a vinyl manufacturing plant are exposed to the most health dangers and are at the greatest risk for cancer, neurological damage, birth defects and lung and kidney disease.

Vinyl is most dangerous when being manufactured and during disposal. Vinyl in a landfill can be a threat to groundwater via release of dioxins and other toxins as the material breaks down.

What is vinyl?

Vinyl is made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a plastic resin that is a known carcinogen. However, vinyl has become the most popular siding material in the US. PVC vinyl became popular in the 1960s and grew in popularity when other plastics containing PCBs, CFCs and chlorinated solvents were eventually banned. PVC vinyl is one of the world's leading sources of dioxin, according to Greenpeace.

The Benefits of Using Vinyl Siding

Vinyl siding can be placed over wood clapboard or cedar shingles. Vinyl siding does not need to be painted, but usually needs to be washed at least once a year. It comes in a variety of colors and can mimic wooden architecture and styles.

Alternatives to Vinyl Siding

Okay, so you are concerned about possible health dangers of vinyl siding, but still would prefer to not have to paint your house. There are several options, which vary in cost.

  • Aluminum siding has similar benefits to vinyl siding. You can more often find recycled aluminum siding products. The downside is that aluminum can dent and is very hard to work with, in terms of construction.
  • Steel or enameled steel siding: The plus is it can come pre-painted; the minus is the greater expense.
  • Bark shingles: According to Caplan, bark shingles are economical, are a salvage product, and are great for someone who wants a natural look. "After all, nature made them to cover a tree for 100 years," he said.
  • Cement siding: The look is similar to clapboards and also can come pre-painted.

If the potential environmental hazards and health dangers of vinyl siding are a concern, check the Networx directory for your nearest "green" builder when deciding on siding options.

Learn more about vinyl siding and the alternatives: fake brick, metal, plywood and wood shingles.

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