VINYL CHLORIDE IN GROUNDWATER
WHAT IS VINYL CHLORIDE?
Vinyl chloride is a colorless gas that has a
mild, sweet odor. It is used to make polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic products.
Vinyl chloride can enter the air, soil, and groundwater following improper
disposal of chemical wastes.
HOW CAN I BE EXPOSED TO VINYL
Drinking contaminated water can expose you to
vinyl chloride; however, the most common way people are exposed is through
breathing contaminated air. If your water supply is contaminated, showering,
bathing, cooking, or laundering with the water can release vinyl chloride into
the air where you can breathe it. Vinyl chloride is not easily absorbed by the
HOW CAN VINYL CHLORIDE AFFECT MY
Most of what we know about the harmful effects
of vinyl chloride comes from studies on male workers in the plastics industry
and from animal studies. Breathing high levels of vinyl chloride can make you
feel lightheaded and give you a headache. Recovery is usually rapid if exposure
is stopped and fresh air is breathed. Animal studies show that exposure to high
levels of vinyl chloride can damage the liver, lungs, and kidneys.
Breathing very high levels of vinyl chloride
over several years is thought to cause liver damage, kidney damage, nerve
damage, and immune disorders. Workers exposed to high levels of vinyl chloride
for several years have higher rates of liver cancer. Pregnant women may have an
increased risk of miscarriage and birth defects when exposed to very high
levels of vinyl chloride in air. These high levels would not be expected in a
home. It is not known whether breathing air or drinking water containing low
levels of vinyl chloride over several years will cause these same
How can I reduce my exposure to vinyl
You should avoid drinking water contaminated
with vinyl chloride. Installation of an in-home activated carbon filter can
remove most of the vinyl chloride from water. Using bottled water will reduce
exposure. If you use contaminated water for other uses in the home, ventilate
bathrooms, washrooms, and kitchens during and after water use.
HOW CAN I FIND OUT IF MY WATER IS
If you are connected to a public water system,
your water is regularly tested for vinyl chloride. If you have a private well,
you can get your water tested by a private laboratory listed in the phone book.
If vinyl chloride is detected in your water, contact your local or state health
DO STANDARDS EXIST FOR EXPOSURE TO VINYL
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has
set a maximum contaminant level of 2 micrograms of vinyl chloride per liter of
water for public drinking water supplies. This standard is established to
reduce the chance of adverse health effects from drinking contaminated water.
This level also can be used as a guideline for private drinking water
There are no standards set for the amount of
vinyl chloride allowed in the air of homes. If you can smell vinyl chloride in
the air, the level is too high. The federal Occupational Safety and Health
Administration has set a workplace standard of 2.6 milligrams of vinyl chloride
per cubic meter of air. This level is set for adult workers exposed eight hours
per day, five days per week. It is not protective of children or the elderly in
the home environment.
IS THERE A MEDICAL TEST TO DETERMINE IF I
HAVE BEEN EXPOSED TO VINYL CHLORIDE?
Vinyl chloride can be detected in the urine
after recent exposures. This test is not routinely available at most medical
facilities, and its results may not accurately reflect the level or duration of
the exposure. A positive test for vinyl chloride is not particularly useful in
predicting future health effects.
WHERE CAN I GET MORE INFORMATION?
Illinois Department of Public Health
Division of Environmental Health
525 W. Jefferson St.
Springfield, IL 62761
TTY (hearing impaired use only) 800-547-0466
This fact sheet was supported in part by
funds from the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and
Liability Act trust fund through a cooperative agreement with the Agency for
Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Public Health Service, U.S. Department
of Health and Human Services.