Open letter to Sean Penn

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Dear Mr Penn,

In your recent documentary “The Human Experiment” PVC (otherwise known as ‘vinyl’) is repeatedly attacked in ways we consider unfair and misleading. We wish to bring these accusations into perspective and correct the most glaring allegations.

PVC is cited by one interviewee as an egregious example of deceptive communications by the chemical industry: comparing PVC to the tobacco industry and alleging that it hired the same consultants. Fairness would have required that this personal opinion be balanced by, for example, stressing that today PVC manufacturing is perfectly safe for its workers and the environment, and that end-of-life disposal is not an issue, as acknowledged by the European Commission in its Green Paper of July 2000 “Environmental issues of PVC”.

The constant mixing of issues from 40 years ago with the present situation will mislead watchers into believing that past problems remain unresolved and constitute a major threat.

The most emotional part of the film deals with medical devices. We follow Mrs. Canvasser and her husband telling their story about hospitalization and the ultimate death of one of their twins. Concerns raised by the mother and mention of a study about exposure to the phthalate DEHP convey the message that PVC medical devices are intrinsically unsafe. Although this view is held by some NGOs, it is not widely shared. Most medical professionals continue to support use of PVC medical devices because of their unique and often irreplaceable life-saving properties.

The film also devotes considerable time to companies “listening to their customers saying they want to get away from PVC”. Investigating alternatives is a healthy process and heeding customers’ demands is sound business practice. However this presentation hides how marginally low such substitution actually happens to be, especially in the construction sector. PVC is used for very good reasons: performance, durability, safety and affordability - and because its main markets are in durable applications, the worldwide use of PVC is increasing at a healthy pace.

We know that you are very involved in humanitarian work, with a special interest in disaster relief following the Haiti earthquake in 2010. You established the "Haitian Relief Organization" and have also been involved in disaster relief following hurricane Katrina. You must be aware that the Chlorine Chemistry Foundation gave significant support following both those disasters? Support included disinfection products, PVC pipes, PVC water containers and PVC sheeting (see . This is but one case where chlorine chemistry and PVC products are helping to save lives during disaster relief efforts. PVC coated tents, temporary shelters, easy to install fresh water and sewerage piping are essential contributions to relief efforts.

Our industry has made huge sustainable development progress. The Vinyl 2010, and now VinylPlus, voluntary sustainability programmes of the European PVC industry, now in their 14th year, are effectively addressing challenges such as recycling, emissions during manufacturing and end of life and hazardous additives. We have partnerships with UN organisations (UNEP, UNIDO) and our recycling commitment was mentioned by the UN General Secretary during the Rio + 20 conference in June 2012..

The vinyl industry takes great pride in its products. There is an immense amount of knowledge and science that have gone into PVC production and development, and considerable thought and action behind worker and consumer safety. We have adapted to change and have made no compromises towards delivering a safe material to the market. We have also proved vinyl is sustainable through various global initiatives.

We are a responsible industry with a very safe product. To be flippant about an industry that employs millions, and serves billions, is not called for and is indicative of inadequate research or playing to the gallery.

We invite you, and everyone reading this, to visit and make note of our achievements. And find out for yourself how wonderful vinyl is.

Yours truly,

Dero signature


Dr Brigitte Dero
General Manager
VinylPlus, The European Council of Vinyl Manufacturers, PVCMed Alliance

The European Council of Vinyl Manufacturers
Avenue E Van Nieuwenhuyse 4, Box 4 • B-1160 Brussels • Belgium
Tel. +32 (0)2 676 7441 • Fax +32 (0)2 676 7447