Legacy chemicals can be described as phased-out or banned chemicals that have a lasting impact on communities, families, and our environment because of how long they last in the environment, their hazardous properties, or their use as an additive or stabilizer.
Legacy chemicals persist in our economy and environment today for many reasons. One of the more appalling reasons is polluters illegally dumped chemicals into soil, lakes, rivers and oceans, like the DDT barrels found in the Pacific Ocean in 2020. However, some of these chemicals last in our environment due to the chemical’s ability to cause severe and chronic reproductive or neuro-developmental harm such as Lead, a well-studied chemical.
Lead-based compounds are still being used as a stabilizer. For example, Lead Salicylate and lead stearate are examples of stabilizers for vinyl products based on EPA . By using chemical recycling technologies and approaches highlighted in the Healthy Building Network’s 2015 document titled Post-Consumer Polyvinyl Chloride in Building Products, we could potentially create toxic-free PVC recycled materials. However, several of these technologies are still not at scale, requiring further investment.
Legacy chemicals and recycling
Hazardous chemicals can also be found in new, “green” products that have an inner layer made from recycled plastics/vinyl and other materials. The issue is when a product is contaminated with heavy metals and pollutants like Lead, it causes chemicals that already emit VOCs, such as vinyl flooring, to also release other hazardous chemicals into a building or home. In a study conducted by the Ecology center, recycled PVC flooring contained lead, cadmium, bromine, gold, and copper; these are elements usually found in electronics waste.
Following the findings of this study, the Ecology Center worked with the Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, the Environmental Health Strategy Center and Healthy Building Network, to push industry leaders to be better environmental health stewards. As a result, Lumber Liquidators and Floor & Décor adopted standards to reduce contaminated vinyl scrap in flooring.
Lumber Liquidators committed to adopt new standards that require its suppliers of vinyl flooring to end all use of reprocessed vinyl plastic in vinyl flooring and limit lead in flooring to less than 100 parts per million (ppm). Floor & Decor adopted tougher standards addressing contaminants in vinyl by banning vinyl scrap plastic and limited lead, cadmium, toxic flame retardants, chromium, and mercury to 100 ppm. (The Ecology Center of Ann Arbor)
To learn more about specific legacy chemicals, choose from the menu on the right of this page.
European Chemicals Agency: Chemical Recycling of Polymeric Materials from Waste in the Circular Economy