Adaptation of the USGBC TSAC Report for Relevance to Australian DWV Pipe

This report, Adaptation of the USGBC TSAC Report for Relevance to Australian DWV Pipe, has been prepared by BRANZ on behalf of PIPA and a consortium of stakeholders to review the US Green Building Council (USGBC) Technical Scientific Advisory Committee (TSAC) report “Assessment of the Technical Basis for a PVC-Related Materials Credit for LEED” to assess and adapt it for relevance to Australian Drain Waste Vent (DWV) pipe.

The report has been peer reviewed by Dr Greg Peters of UNSW and Dr John Schiers of ExcelPlas – reviewers selected and agreed by the consortium members.

The USGBC TSAC report is the most comprehensive assessment of the environmental and health risk implications of using PVC products in construction. The report provides a technical touchstone for industry and environmental groups because it is the first time when both environmental impacts and health risk assessment have been addressed together in a complementary way. Despite reviewing thousands of sources there still remain some significant gaps in coverage of the health risk impacts for PVC products, but even more so for many alternatives.

The PVC industry have faced opposition from environmental groups for many years but claim that their products are no worse for their environmental and health impacts than competing products. This environmental opposition manifests in Australia in a credit within the Green Building Council of Australia’s Green Star Rating Systems for minimisation or elimination of PVC, in the Guidelines for the Sydney Olympic Park Authority seeking PVC minimisation and in the NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change registration of PVC as a waste of concern. This report aims to provide evidence to assist all stakeholders to reach rational conclusions based on best available science, by adapting the TSAC report to Australian product, production processes and competing alternatives.

The project has reproduced the TSAC LCA results adapted to Australian product and processes but assessed using the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Tool for the Reduction and Assessment of Chemical and Other Environmental Impacts (TRACI) impact assessment methodology. Results are compared and contrasted with US results extending the products assessed from PVC, ABS and Cast Iron to also include Copper and HDPE. The results show that against a wide range of environmental impacts, the PVC pipe performs favourably compared to its main competitors, only HDPE pipe having a comparable environmental performance. This performance is demonstrated over production and use phases of the product life cycle.

The project has attempted to reproduce the TSAC Health Risk assessment results, but found that gaps in the available data prevented a complete assessment. Using a strategy of top down adaptation of TSAC results and bottom up estimation of results it has nonetheless been possible to replicate or simulate Australian pipe performance and verify or refute results and conclusions for their relevance to Australian pipe. The health risk assessment demonstrates that particulate emissions from cast iron and copper production dominate the health risks from the pipe alternatives and PVC pipe performance has a lower associated health risk compared to alternatives than that in the US. ABS pipe appears to have a higher associated risk than found in

ithe TSAC report from production. The assessment has also confirmed that if the frequency of landfill fires is at the high end of the TSAC scenarios, PVC pipe may have a higher end-of-life cancer risk associated with it (but this is still small compared to the particulate emissions risks). Overall, PE pipe has the lowest health risk implications.

A surprise side result form this study was that US dioxin emissions from well managed and controlled incinerated wastes (where the incinerators operate at high temperatures) are probably lower than the dioxin emissions from landfilled waste subject to accidental uncontrolled fires. This means that the dioxin emissions associated with the 100% landfilled wastes in Australia may be higher on average than those where a significant proportion of wastes are incinerated. This is generally counter to the expectations and advocacy of environmental groups.

It is recommended:

  • That the PVC pipe industry commit to the recycling of UPVC waste from the waste stream and work with State governments to recover these wastes and mitigate any remaining concerns over UPVC related dioxin or other emissions from landfill fires.
  • That this report be presented to NSW DECC with a request to investigate landfill fire frequency and burn mass to confirm and improve these findings and with a commitment in place to recover UPVC waste from the waste stream reconsider PVC as a waste of concern.
  • That this report be presented to the Green Building Council of Australia to seek a withdrawal or modification of the PVC minimization credit to permit the use of PVC DWV pipe.
  • That this report be presented to the Sydney Olympic park Authority to seek a withdrawal or modification of the PVC minimization requirements in its development guidelines.
  • That the pipe industry proceed with a full LCA of their products and establish an ecolabel standard for pipe systems – this report indicates that PVC pipe products are likely to be environmentally preferable.

Adaptation of the USGBC TSAC Report for Relevance to Australian DWV Pipe was written by Edge Environment

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