I-Team: Plumbers Concerned About PVC, Change To Building Code

WBZ-TV's Cheryl Fiandaca reports.

Video Transcript

- Tonight an I-Team investigation into a recently changed building code.

- Union Plumbers say that change could put their members health at serious risk. WBZ Chief investigator Cheryl Fiandaca has the details.

- That's the dust.

- And you guys are breathing this in?

- Every day.

- Union farmers say it's not just the dust from cutting PVC pipe that makes installing it so dangerous.

- It's the whole joining process. And you can smell it, how strong and potent it is.

- The labels on the solvent cans clearly warn about the risk of exposure, telling users do not breathe vapors, known lung irritant and suspected of causing cancer.

- I think it's a long term problem.

- Barrie spent years working as a plumber and is now worried about his medical tests. that show abnormalities in his liver.

- Chemicals go right to your liver. It's like you're playing low, you're cutting it, you're breathing it, you're in a confined space, my liver functions off. I think it's a long term health hazard for plumbers.

- Despite the Plumbers Union raising health concerns about the product, the Massachusetts Plumbers Board removed restrictions on the use of the plastic pipe. Last month, that changed the state code to allow developers to use PVC and taller buildings and on nonresidential floors.

- When someone says, well here, we're going to make a change. And now, we can use unlimited PVC in every building. Well, there isn't one person that's going to say, well, I'm worried about the person that's putting in the pipe. I'm worried about my bottom line, which is money.

- And it isn't just the plumbers union sounding the alarm. The EPA calls vinyl chloride that's used to make PVC a known human carcinogen. And the Center for Environmental Health says there's no way to safely manufacture, use, or dispose of PVC products.

- The problem is there are well to be worried about health effects from working with PVC pipe.

- Michael Ellenbecker is a professor at UMass Lowell's toxic waste reduction Institute, where researchers work on developing safer alternatives to toxic chemicals. He says the plumbing industry has safer pipes. Both cast iron and copper have been used for hundreds of years with little risk.

- The lifetime risk from using iron papers is, in my opinion, much less than using PVC.

- The I-Team contacted the Plastic Pipe and Fittings Association about the health concerns. It told us, PVC products have been used for 50 plus years and are safe, non-corrosive, and economical.

- And it was as well as cheaper to install but was cheaper. My cancer sickness or a piece of pipe in the long run.

- And it's not just plumbers that have concern about PVC pipe. Firefighters say when the pipes melt, they give off toxic fumes creating problems for them as well. Cheryl Fiandaca WBZ News.

- Now the state board of plumbers and gas fitters did not respond to the I-Team's request for comment.

- Such an interesting story because it's not something you would ever think of.

- It does and is internal points out affects so many different occupations.