Chris Rauber, SF Business Times

A batch of large national and international employers — including Bay Area
giants such as Hewlett-Packard, Kaiser Permanente, Microsoft and Catholic Healthcare West — are phasing out PVC plastics from their
operations, according to a statement Wednesday by several intertwined health
and environmental groups.

PVC — polyvinyl chloride or vinyl — is clogging the state's landfills and
posing significant long-term health threats, "due to the leaching of toxic
additives into groundwater, dioxin-forming landfill fires and the release of
toxic emissions in landfill gases," the groups said Dec. 7.

Studies show links between the chemicals created and used during the PVC
"lifecycle" and cancer, reproductive and immune system damage, and
asthma, they said.

As a result, a number of huge companies are "joining the fast-growing
ranks" of corporations taking this step, for environmental and
health-related reasons, according to the Falls Church, Va.-based Center for
Health, Environment and Justice; the Oakland-based Center for Environmental
Health and Boston-based Health Care Without Harm. All are opposed to the use of PVC in packaging, building
materials and other commercial uses.

"We have eliminated PVC from all Microsoft packaging effective Dec. 31,
2005," Pamela Passman, a Microsoft spokeswoman, said in the statement,
noting that the software giant has eliminated an estimated 361,000 pounds of
PVC packaging since July of this year.

Microsoft and the other companies are working with a coalition of 60
organizations coordinated by the Center for Health, Environment and Justice in
this effort.

"We are seeing a major new trend: Major corporations are phasing out
PVC and switching to safer and healthier consumer products," said Michael
Green, executive director of the Center for Environmental Health, part of the

Other members have also taken significant steps to eliminate or minimize use
of PVC. Among them:

  • Kaiser Permanente is phasing
    out PVC "wherever possible" in its billions of dollars worth of
    new hospital construction in the next decade, much of which will take
    place in California.

  • San Francisco-based CHW, a
    40-hospital system with operations in California,
    Arizona and Nevada, has awarded a five-year, $70
    million contract for PVC-free IV equipment.

  • Hewlett-Packard said last
    month it will eliminate remaining uses of PVC "as safer alternatives
    are available." It's already removed the plastic from all external
    case parts.

Other large corporations making similar moves include Crabtree & Evelyn, Wal-Mart, Firestone Building Products Co., Shaw Industries, and Johnson & Johnson, according to the environmental groups.

"We're trying to get all of them to phase out PVCs," Los Gibbs, a spokeswoman for the coalition, told the Business Times.