Atmosphere

Air toxics and indoor air quality in Australia

State of knowledge report
Environment Australia, 2001
ISBN 0 6425 4739 4

Part C: Factsheets (continued)

Vinyl chloride monomer

Substance name: Vinyl chloride monomer
CASR number: 75-01-4
Molecular formula: C2H3Cl
Synonyms: Vinyl Chloride; chloroethylene; ethylene monochloride; VC; VCM; chloroethene; monochloroethene; monochloroethylene;

Physical and chemical properties

Vinyl chloride monomer is a sweet smelling, colourless gas at room temperature.

Melting point: -153.7°C
Boiling point: -13.9°C
Vapour density: 2.2
Specific gravity: 0.910
Flashpoint: -77.8°C

Vinyl chloride monomer is reactive; it will polymerise in light, air or heat, unless stabilised with inhibitors. It is soluble in many organic solvents, but only slightly soluble in water. As a gas, mixed with air, vinyl chloride is a fire and explosion hazard. On standing, it can produce peroxides, which may then explode.

Common uses

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is made from vinyl chloride monomer. PVC is used in many consumer and industrial products, including pipes, wire and cable coatings, furniture upholstery, wrapping film, hoses, flooring, windows, videodiscs, credit cards, and many others.

Sources of emissions

Point sources

The primary sources of vinyl chloride monomer emissions are the industries that manufacture it or use it in production. These include the chemical industry (manufacture of polyvinyl chloride, ethylene dichloride, methyl chloroform (1,1,1 trichloroethane), caprolactam, vinyl acetate, and vinylidene chloride) and the plastics industry. These emissions are primarily to the air, with a small percentage to the water.

Diffuse sources, and point sources included in aggregated emissions data

Landfills containing vinyl chloride or other chlorinated hydrocarbons may release vinyl chloride monomer. The treatment of wastewater containing vinyl chloride or chlorinated hydrocarbons may release vinyl chloride.

Natural sources

Vinyl chloride monomer does not occur naturally in the environment.

Mobile sources

There are no mobile sources.

Consumer products that may contain vinyl chloride monomer Many consumer products are made from or contain polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which may allow vinyl chloride monomer to seep from new plastic parts. Consumer products containing polyvinyl chloride include pipes and fittings for outdoor irrigation, yard furniture, containers, wrapping film, wire and cable insulation, and many others.

Health effects

How might I be exposed to vinyl chloride monomer?

Workers in the industries that use or produce vinyl chloride monomer are at risk of exposure. Consumers can be exposed to vinyl chloride monomer by exposure to air from production and processing facilities using vinyl chloride monomer, waste sites that contain vinyl chloride or other chlorinated hydrocarbons, or new polyvinyl chloride plastics items.

By what pathways might vinyl chloride monomer enter my body?

Vinyl chloride monomer can enter the body when a person breathes contaminated air or drinks contaminated water.

Health guidelines

National Occupational Health and Safety Commission (NOHSC):

Under the National Model Regulations for the Control of Workplace Hazardous Substances, vinyl chloride requires health surveillance. Vinyl chloride is listed by the NOHSC as a substance under review for carcinogenicity.

What effect might vinyl chloride monomer have on my health?

The inhalation of high levels of vinyl chloride has led to narcosis (the effects of a narcotic), problems in breathing, convulsions and death. At lower levels, symptoms may be headaches, and dizziness. Long-term exposure may cause impotence, blood disorders, and liver problems. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified vinyl chloride as a human carcinogen, based upon evidence of carcinogenicity in both humans and animals. It is classified by the NOHSC as a Category 1 carcinogen (substance known to be carcinogenic to humans).

Environmental effects

Environmental fate

Vinyl chloride monomer enters the air during production and use. In the air it will break down into other chemicals (formyl chloride and formaldehyde) in two to three days. Although most of the vinyl chloride monomer released is to the air, when released to the soil it will either evaporate or leach into the groundwater. It will quickly evaporate if released to surface water. In subsurface water it may not biodegrade and may last for months to years.

Environmental transport

Industrial emissions of vinyl chloride monomer can produce elevated concentrations in the atmosphere around the source. Since it breaks down quickly in the air, it is not likely to spread far from where it is used. Releases to the soil and water quickly evaporate to the air. Since it does not bind to soil well, vinyl chloride monomer that makes its way into the ground and does not evaporate may move through the ground and enter groundwater.

Environmental guidelines

There are no national guidelines.

What effect might vinyl chloride monomer have on the environment?

Vinyl chloride monomer will exist as a gas if released to the atmosphere. It also evaporates from soil and water when they are exposed to the air. There are insufficient data to predict the toxicity of vinyl chloride monomer to aquatic life, plants, birds or animals. Vinyl chloride monomer is not expected to bioaccumulate.

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