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Critics show plasticity of facts in pvc debate

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I would like to respond to the criticisms of my article (AJ 26.10.00) made in the letter from Roger Southworth (AJ 2.11.00).

Although Southworth is critical of my article, he appears to be much less critical in his appraisal of information provided by some environmental pressure groups.

Southworth's description of the Sydney Olympics as praiseworthy for 'avoiding the use of PVC' illustrates my point. The reality is that, despite what some pressure groups have said, PVC was used throughout the Olympics venue in a range of high-performance applications. These included:

all communication cable and conduit;

drainage pipes; and 80,000m 2of PVC-coated fabric.

Furthermore, in 1996, Australia's pre-eminent scientific body, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), found 'the adverse environmental impacts of using PVC in building products are very small and no greater than those for other materials'. This finding was reconfirmed by the CSIRO in 1998, while controversy surrounding the use of PVC at the Olympics continued.

I believe that the AJ was absolutely right to publish my article on the Millennium Dome roof, despite the criticism that the editor received. Everything in my article was carefully researched and fully supportable.

However, I think that the readers of AJ deserve to hear all sides of any story so that they can make decisions on the basis of the full picture. Greenpeace received a lot of media support in its campaign to prevent the use of PVC for the Dome roof. Much of the information Greenpeace provided in support of its campaign was grossly misleading. The alternative to PVC, which was chosen, is far worse - for the reasons I gave in my article - and Greenpeace deserves to have its costly error exposed. If Greenpeace wants to write to say why it thinks PTFE/glass fibre was a better choice for the Dome roof after all (hence justifying the halt to its campaign) I would very much like to hear its response.

I do agree with one point that Southworth made. The fact the original PVC fabric supplier (that lost the contract) went bankrupt does not affect the debate on whether the change of material was correct on environmental grounds. I would also agree that the multimillion-pound increase in project cost had nothing to do with the environmental debate, although it might have something to do with the wider debate on project sustainability. However, I am sure this will all be of very little comfort to those who had their livelihoods affected.

Roger Mottram, UK environmental affairs manager, European Vinyls Corporation Austin Williams replies:

When the AJ ran a pro-PVC article, many readers complained that we were biased. Aside from Mottram's refutation of the popular prejudices against PVC above, such criticism represents a blinkered view of debate and ignores the massive anti-PVC trend in vogue at the moment. Mottram's article attempted to redress the balance.

An interesting expose of the hyped dangers about PVC is contained in the booklet Poisonous Dummies (the title referring both to a recent pthalate scare about baby comforters as well as a pun on the dangerous and naive intent of the proponents of these scares). Written by Bill Durodie for the European Science and Environment Forum, it is available on 01223 264643.

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