Frequently Asked Questions about PVC Roofing Systems: Part 5

Q: Isn’t PVC a major cause of dangerous toxic gases during accidental building fires?

A: Every organic substance that burns during accidental building fires is a source of toxic gases. In fact, the mix of gases produced from PVC combustion – carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, hydrogen chloride (HCI) and water – is very similar to those of all other organic materials. More importantly, vinyl’s inherent flame resistance properties actually play a beneficial role in mitigating the spread and strength of accidental building fires. Most rigid and flexible PVC will not burn alone without the application of heat from another source. Studies in Europe and the U.S. have shown that dioxin is present in all large-scale accidental fires, whether vinyl is present or not. PVC roofing membranes are a very small component of the mass of any building, and the smoke produced in a roof fire typically is external to the building.

Q: Isn’t PVC made from chlorine, one of the most dangerous substances on earth?

A: In its common elemental form (CI2 or dichlorine), chlorine is a poisonous, pale green gas about 2.5 times as dense as air. This is why the safe production, transportation, and handling of dichlorine is tightly regulated by government and vigilantly administered by industry through training and programs like Responsible Care. However, chlorine is also a naturally occurring element found throughout the oceans and rocks of the world, and it is an essential nutrient for plants, animals and humans. The chlorine used to make vinyl is derived from salt – both sea-water and land-based. Once chlorine is processed into vinyl, it is chemically locked into the product more tightly than it is in salt. Chlorine gas is never produced when PVC burns. When vinyl is recycled, landfilled or disposed of in a modern incinerator, no chlorine gas is released into the atmosphere. PVC roofing products are made from a very stable chlorine compound, and no chlorine is ever emitted from the finished product.

Solar Reflectance Index

Reflectivity, or albedo, is the percentage of the sun’s energy that is reflected by a surface. Another important measurement of a roof membrane’s performance is emittance. Emittance deals with how effectively a surface releases heat; it is the percentage of absorbed energy that a material can radiate away.

Most authorities have concentrated on reflectivity as the prime measurement of energy performance of cool roofing. However, with even the most reflective materials some energy is absorbed, and if that absorbed energy is not released efficiently it can cause a roof to heat up.

There is another measurement, called the solar reflectance index (SRI), that is beginning to get some attention. SRI combines reflectivity and emittance to measure a roofs overall ability to reject solar heat. The calculation of this index is defined by ASTM E 1980-01 and is based on some rather complicated math that includes values for solar absorptance, solar flux, thermal emissivity, the Stefan Boltzmann constant, and various other coefficients. Standard black (reflectivity 5%, emittance 90%) has an index of 0, and standard white (reflectivity 80%, emittance 90%) has an index of 100. Very hot materials can actually have negative values and very cool materials can have values greater than 100.

When all is said and done, a specific value can be calculated for any roofing product. Materials with the highest SRIs are the coolest choices for roofing.

Here is a sampling of products measured by Lawrence Berkeley Labs:

Product SRI Reflectivity Emittance
Duro-Last Cool Zone 108 87% 95%
Atlanta Metal Products, Kynar Snow White 82 67% 85%
Black EPDM -1 6% 86%
Sarnafil White 104 83% 92%
White Granular Surface Bitumen 28 26% 92%
Trocal Roofing Systems, White 104 83% 90%
Light Gravel on BUR 37 34% 90%

Think Plastic Is Under Attack? Think Again!

If PVC and all of its products and components disappeared tomorrow would extremist organizations like Greenpeace be satisfied? Definitely not. The activists are not just anti-PVC – they are anti-plastic and anti-chemical. That affects a lot more than just PVC. Take a look at the pyramid below, originally posted on the Greenpeace web site, that shows their ranking of the “safety” of plastics, from least (top) to most (bottom).

For an objective view of PVC roofing material safety, download the Q&A document, PVC Roofing Systems: Benefits & Issues from the Duro-Last web site. We also regularly post articles on this blog regarding PVC issues.

Greenpeace’s plans are to start at the top and work down. If the activists can’t attack plastics directly they change their tactics and attack the components that go into final plastic products. Some components they like to draw attention to are chlorine, plasticizers, stabilizers, fire retardants and UV inhibitors.

If they attack any of these components they attack every single plastic in existence – plus thousands of other lifesaving products and processes. Here’s just a sampling of what would cease to exist in their present form if “just” chlorine were eliminated:

Milk jugs Chlorine bleach Decaf coffee DVD disks
Skin cream Fire extinguishers Paint Windows
Penicillin Sewer pipe Jello Beer brewing
Automobile hoses Bike tires Nylon rope Satellites
Helmets & hardhats Solar panels Deodorant Fishing line
Heart valves Silicon memory chips Boat hulls Wind turbines
Roller blades Luggage rollers Water purification Ibuprofen
Toothpaste PDAs IV tubing & bags Computers
Flooring Valium Runway de-icer MP3 players
Polyurethane insulation

There are thousands of other products and processes that have expanded and improved human existence that are threatened. So, if anyone thinks they have a competitive advantage by fueling the fires of junk science activists against their competitors, think again. Today’s competitive advantage could become tomorrow’s dead pharaoh buried under the pyramid.

Frequently Asked Questions about PVC Roofing Systems: Part 4

Q: Who says PVC materials are safe and/or environmentally benign?

A: The following are among the many organizations that have conducted scientific studies and life cycle assessments on PVC that have arrived at neutral or positive conclusions regarding the comparative health, safety and/or environmental sustainability of PVC production, installation, use and disposal:

Q: What about concerns that PVC production results in deadly emissions of dioxin, ethylene dichloride and vinyl chloride, causing health problems among PVC workers and nearby communities?

A: According to the EPA, since adoption of a closed-loop manufacturing process in the mid-1970s vinyl chloride emissions in vinyl plants have been reduced by 99 percent and dioxin emissions from all sources have been reduced by 92 percent. During the same time frame, PVC production in the U.S. more than tripled. In 1997, CDC reported that the PVC industry had “almost completely eliminated worker exposures to vinyl chloride” as well as the incidence of cancer and other illnesses caused by exposure. More recent studies by ATSDR and others have shown that dioxin levels and the incidence of cancer in communities near PVC production facilities are no higher than the national average.