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Vinyl chloride

Vinyl chloride, Chloroethylene

SPRI Emission Reporting Threshold
1,000 Kg/yr Pollutant Emissions to Air
1.00 Kg/yr Pollutant Emissions to Water
1.00 Kg/yr Pollutant Emissions to Waste Water
10.0 Kg/yr Pollutant Emissions to Land
This sheet is a generic summary, designed to give the reader a basic level of background information about the substance in question. Great care has been taken to represent as effectively and correctly as possible the broad range of (not necessarily consistent) information which is available from a variety of sources. The reader must accept therefore that this sheet has no legal status and cannot be relied upon in any legal proceedings. SEPA disclaims any responsibility or liability whatsoever for errors and omissions in this sheet.
What is it?
Chloroethene is a colourless liquid or gas which has a faint, sweet smell. When heated, it breaks down to give toxic fumes. It is also highly flammable. Chloroethene dissolves only slightly in water, but reasonably well in alcohols. Chloroethene is one of a group of chemicals known as the volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
What is it used for?
The main use of Chloroethene is to make Polyvinylchloride (PVC) plastic. PVC is widely used in a variety of applications. These include to make pipes, packaging and even furniture. In the past, Chloroethene was also used as a coolant and aerosol propellant.
Where does it come from?
Most releases of Chloroethene occur from the plastics industry, both to air and to surface waters. Chloroethene is also a product of the natural breakdown of other man-made chemicals in the environment. Trace amounts of Chloroethene have been found in cigarette smoke. There are not thought to be any natural sources of Chloroethene to the environment.
How might it affect the environment?
The ease with which Chloroethene evaporates means that releases to soil and water tend to quickly enter the atmosphere where it is easily broken down. That which remains in soil or waters will break down very slowly and will be very mobile so may seep into groundwaters. As a VOC, Chloroethene can be involved in the formation of ground level ozone which can cause damage to crops and materials. It is not considered likely that Chloroethene pollution has any effects on the global environment.
How might exposure to it affect human health?
Vinyl chloride can enter the body primarily by inhalation of air containing vinyl chloride, ingestion of contaminated water and food or by dermal contact with liquid vinyl chloride. Inhalation of air containing high levels of vinyl chloride can lead to a range of adverse health effects including breathing difficulties, fatigue, headache, vertigo, numbness and tingling in extremities, unconsciousness and in extreme cases death. Exposure over long periods of time may cause liver damage, blood disorders and impotence. The health effects of ingestion of vinyl chloride are not known. Dermal contact with liquid vinyl chloride can cause skin irritation, frostbite and may cause the skin to turn blue in colour (cyanosis). Small amounts of vinyl chloride can be adsorbed through the skin. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has designated vinyl chloride as a carcinogen. However, exposure to vinyl chloride at normal background levels is unlikely to have any adverse effect on human health.
What steps are being taken to limit the potential impacts?
Releases of Chloroethene are controlled through the UK Pollution, Prevention and Control (PPC) Regulations. As a VOC, levels in air are also regulated through the UK National Air Quality Strategy. As an organohalogen, Chloroethene is regulated through a large number of European and international agreements. The main European legislation includes the EC Directive restricting the marketing and use of certain dangerous substances (76/769/EEC) and the Hazardous Wastes Directive (91/689/EEC), which protects groundwaters. The main international legislation includes the UN/ECE Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution, the Basel Convention on the transboundary movement and disposal of hazardous wastes and the OSPAR Convention which protects the marine environment of the north-east Atlantic Ocean.