(Editor’s Note: This is a joint response from Lance MacNevin of the Plastics Pipe Institute; Michael Cudahy of the Plastic Pipe and Fittings Association; and Domenic DeCaria of the Vinyl Institute to the article “Codes Must Be Responsive to Current and Future Hazards.” which was published in the October issue of PHC News.)
Plastic pipe began as a technical innovation of the 1950s, used to rebuild Europe after World War II. These materials advanced, gained acceptance and then became the norm. In North America, plastic pipe has been an integral part of construction since the 1970s. And like any technical product, they keep getting better and better.
This editorial-style attack in the article “Codes Must Be Responsive to Current and Future Hazards” was an unsubstantiated offensive on piping products that are widely used for plumbing, hydronics and fire protection applications.
Consider legitimate facts
The use of fear, insinuations and emotional arguments is a thinly veiled attempt to turn back the technological innovations of the past 40 years. PPI, PPFA, and VI feel that a response to this article is necessary to encourage readers to consider legitimate facts, rather than biased rhetoric that mischaracterizes not only plastic piping materials, but the values and ethics of the industries that make them possible.
The increase in cancer rates among firefighters is concerning, and, as noted below, the causes are being investigated. This is an area where both the plastic pipe and firefighting industries are strongly aligned.
However, there is no evidence to connect this issue with plastic pipe, which are installed behind walls, ceilings and floors. In fact, any such efforts to connect these topics seems to us like a flagrant exploitation of firefighters for the purpose of promoting antiquated piping materials.
Not only does this article allege a baseless claim about the toxicity of smoke from pipe, but it also compares these highly-tested and certified products to the decades-old environmental problems of lead pipe and asbestos, while somehow making a questionable link to micro plastics in the ocean. And yet, in some installations, cast-iron soil pipe is still joined using lead.
The plastic pipe industry has searched for the source of the implications and claims about these products being responsible for the increase in firefighter cancer rates, but there is none. The author, or the entities being represented, have never provided any evidence that links plastic pipe to cancer rates in firefighters.
On the contrary, plastic fire sprinkler pipe has contributed positively to saving lives in light hazard applications for decades. According to the American Fire Sprinkler Association, nearly 4,400 lives have been saved as a result of fire sprinkler systems, many of these systems being plastic. This is another area where the plastic pipe and the firefighting industries are strongly aligned.
We believe that the health and safety of firefighters is an issue that should be addressed with data and facts. According to the website of the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, of the 1.1 million firefighters in the U.S., 80 to 100 die in the line of duty each year. Some of these deaths are the results of traffic accidents, and there are many other causes.
The NIOSH “Fire Fighter Cancer Study” that concluded in November 2013 found that firefighters had more cancer deaths and cancer cases than expected, but drew no conclusion about the reasons (https://bit.ly/2PYtqQz).
The Firefighter Cancer Registry Act of 2018, which was signed into law in July 2018, requires “the Secretary of Health and Human Services to develop a voluntary registry to collect data on cancer incidence among firefighters and to track links between their workplace exposures and cancer. Readers can review the program and track updates at https://bit.ly/36IAsPz.
There are many materials that emit combustion products during fires, so firefighters wear self-contained breathing apparatus for protection.
To put things into perspective, plastic pipe materials likely represent less than 0.1 percent of the weight of all the building materials and contents, and these pipe materials are typically protected behind walls or contained within floor/ceiling assemblies. Many of these assemblies are even fire-rated, so pipe is one of the last items to be exposed to fire in a building that is consumed.
In addition to attempting to link plastic pipe to increased firefighter cancer rates, the author further attempts to exploit press reports regarding plastics in the environment by including an unjustified attempt to lump plastic piping products with concerns about single-use plastics in the environment. Plastic piping products are durable, long-lasting products that play no role in the contamination of rivers and oceans.
Using the misfortune of firefighter cancers to attack certain piping materials is a self-serving and insensitive ploy on the part of the author and any collaborators, and needs to be called out for the sham that it is. This article just seems like a tabloid-style, attention-getting contrivance to use false information to mislead plumbers, builders, and engineers, and possibly restrict their code choices.
There are many more constructive topics that deserve attention to help design and construct safer, healthier buildings for both occupants and first responders.
The Plastics Pipe Institute is a non-profit trade association that began in 1950 to represent manufacturers of plastic piping systems used in all segments of the pipe industry; its Building and Construction Division focuses on pressure pipes. The Plastic Pipe and Fittings Association is a trade association having four plus decades experience focusing on plastic pipe and fittings covered by construction codes. The Vinyl Institute, founded in 1982, is a U.S. trade organization representing the leading manufacturers of vinyl, vinyl chloride monomer, and vinyl additives and modifiers.
By Lance MacNevin, Michael Cudahy and Domenic DeCaria