Responsible Practice

Taking the lead - out of pipes

Environmentally and socially responsible members in the industry have mentioned the Southern African Vinyls Association (SAVA) as a global frontrunner in eliminating lead stabilisers during the local manufacture of PVC piping products. 

Following this unprecedented success, manufacturers and its members are now driving forward an initiative with the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) to exclude lead stabilisers from all future SABS specifications. This was introduced at the inaugural SAVA conference, which hosted industry experts from around the world.

The presentation emphasized how lead creates no immediate risk to end-users, but does pose a risk during the manufacturing process, as lead in powder form becomes toxic when inhaled and absorbed into the skin.

In 2006 it was decided to remove lead from the manufacturing process as part of an ongoing commitment to corporate, social and environmental responsibility. Lead is now replaced with non-toxic calcium/zinc and organic-based stabilizers. Calcium/zinc stabilisers have been used in PVC applications for more than 25 years. Organic-based stabilisers are predominantly based on uracyl technology and are heavy metal and odour-free, and approved for potable water and food contact applications.

Although the process of removing lead from PVC piping has been long and costly, it vital for future sustainability. The price of alternative stabilisers was considerably higher than lead and all members incurred the additional costs at their own expense.

About 70% of plastic pipe manufacturers in SA have eliminated lead stabilisers from their products, which has resulted in a rise in demand and consequent decrease in price, for alternative stabilisers. The manufacturing process still remains more expensive because higher volumes of alternative stabilisers have to be used in order to achieve the same effect as lead.

However, local manufacturers are becoming more conscious of the health and safety of their workers and are prepared to cut into their profit margins to reduce the risk of toxic exposure. As a demand for organic stabilisers continue to rise, they will become more cost-effective than lead in the long-term future.

Industry leaders are optimistic that lead stabilisers will be completely eliminated from all SABS specifications within a matter of years and there has been positive feedback from the SABS so far. As the majority of plastic pipe manufacturers in South Africa have already proven that they committed to social responsibility.

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Issue 42