Cancer alley-The real issue behind PVC is more than a bunch of chemicals.

Years before metal rails became the mainstay, skaters the world over used PVC (polyvinyl chloride) to make coping for halfpipes, quarterpipes, ledges, and flatbars. What you may not know is that even though the PVC coping has been replaced by metal, skating in all of its many facets is still affected heavily by PVC. It’s used in products such as clothing, shoes, and backpacks.

Bags and backpacks use a PVC coating to make them water-resistant. PVC is used in clothing to make printed T-shirts and logos. Shoe manufacturers use PVC in different parts of the shoe, from the sole to the labels, logos for imprints, and upper parts made from vinyl imitation leather with PVC coating. PVC is a malleable material that can be found in most of the products we use every day. It’s also one of the deadliest products produced in the world.

Louisiana is home to the world’s largest producers of PVC. Two towns, Reveilletown and Morrissonville, located in dangerously close proximity to the PVC plants, have been abandoned, due to the billions of cancer-causing carcinogens being released into the air and water on a daily basis.

Louisiana was dubbed “Cancer Alley” in the 1980s, describing how areas are affected by the over 300 major industries located there. Within a one-hundred-mile stretch down the majestic Mississippi River are approximately 150 petroleum- and PVC-producing factories between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. No longer is this the romanticized waterway that Mark Twain popularized in The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn.

According to corpwatch.org, the Mississippi River region isn’t the only area affected, either: “On a per-square-mile basis, Calcasieu Parish (located on the Louisiana-Texas border, next to the Gulf of Mexico) surpasses the mass industrialization along the Mississippi River. There are more than 53 industrial factories in Calcasieu Parish, and more than 40 of these plants are located within a ten-mile radius.”

You could argue that these companies bring in revenues vital to the economy of the state, but proof has shown that due to the specialized training required to operate the complex technologies inside these plants, many of the occupants of the local regions fall short of the educational background required to work in these facilitates.

Shintech, a Japanese PVC manufacturer that had plans to build the largest-ever polyvinyl chloride plant in history in Convent, Louisiana, a small town with a population of 2,052-predominately populated by African American, low-income families-moved out of Japan after local governments in Japan declared the production of PVC and its products to be unfit for humans and an environmental hazard. At that time they relocated to the U.S., due in part to substantial tax exemptions they would receive. Shintech became the defendants in the largest environmental justice case in U.S. history. It also marked the first time that the EPA was asked to reject a permit on the grounds of environmental justice. The Executive Order put forth by President Bill Clinton in 1994 states, “Federal Agencies must insure that people of color and poor communities are not disproportionately affected by the siting of toxic facilities in their neighborhood.” It was also in strict congruence with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of the 60s.

Shintech initially expected to receive almost 130-million dollars in subsidies, including:

* A ten-year industrial property tax exemption valued at 94.5-million dollars.

* Enterprise zone status, which provides for the rebate of sales and use taxes during construction, valued at 35-million dollars.

* A corporate income-tax credit of 2,500 dollars for each new job created. Shintech would get a credit of 412,500 dollars for the estimated 165 permanent jobs it promised to create.

Shintech later removed its bid on the little town of Convent and merged with Dow, one of the world leaders in PVC production, to build its new factory in neighboring Plaquemine, Louisiiana, where Dow was already established. The new site that local residents were petitioning against wouldn’t be as large as the originally proposed 700-million-dollar facility, but it would be only a few miles upriver from the community and schools.

What makes the production of PVC so dangerous is dioxin. Dioxin is an unintentional and unavoidable by-product of PVC. It is a known carcinogen and acts as a hormone mimicker. Humans already have dioxin in their bodies. Any outside exposure of dioxin to the body results in a multitude of health complications.

Recent studies have shown that neighboring communities have increasing numbers of fatalities caused from exposure to these high levels of toxins. Louisiana is home to the highest rate of children born with ailments such as asthma, reproductive complications, respiratory complications, stillbirths, miscarriages, neurological diseases, and cancer. Although there have been substantial data backing these allegations, many representatives have gone on record as stating that there are actually fewer-not more-cases of cancer in Louisiana state.

Once the hazards of PVC production became known in the public arena, many big businesses have opted to find an alternative to the product.

In the last few years, Nike has discontinued the use of PVC in its products. Following suit are other companies such as Volvo, Saab, Braun, Ikea, The Body Shop, JM, and Svenska Bostder. As Nike pointed out in a recent public announcement, “The issue for us with PVC is a life-cycle one. At Nike, we believe in looking at the entire product and resource life-cycle. The pure PVC polymer is not toxic, but its life-cycle is very hazardous to human health and the environment.” Many children’s toy makers have also phased out PVC, replacing it with PVC alternatives.

The question remains simple: Will skateboarding’s companies who use PVC seek alternatives? Apparently the manufacturing of many skateboard-related products relies heavily on PVC. Serious research may be required to find a suitable alternative.

In an ironic twist, some of the companies who are creating the very plastics and PVC products that are killing and inflicting ailments on the local citizens have, in a sign of good faith, begun to give back to the community by building them homes and playgrounds-made from PVC.