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Environmental Science/Odor from plastic and rubber products


I've noticed in recent years that many plastic/rubber products, especially those that are made in China, give off a particularly strong odor when new. I usually put such items outside the house for several day in the hope that the odor disperses. It sometimes takes several weeks to do so.

Can you tell me if  the fumes given off by these products (example: gum boots, plastic containers, kitchen rubbish bins, non-slip bath mats etc.) are toxic? Also, once they have been "aired" are they safe to bring back inside the house?

I really can't say precisely.  Sometimes when the product is made from PVC what you are smelling is the plasticizer offgassing (yes, that's actually a word!). What you are smelling is Vinyl Chloride monomer. It has the odor we generally associate with new cars.
according to my toxicology data base, it can be harmful but only in extemely large quantities, and only if ingested harmfully.
The following is from the CDC Toxfacts page on Vinyl Chloride:
"Exposure to vinyl chloride occurs mainly in the workplace. Breathing high levels of vinyl chloride for short periods of time can cause dizziness, sleepiness, unconsciousness, and at extremely high levels can cause death. Breathing vinyl chloride for long periods of time can result in permanent liver damage, immune reactions, nerve damage, and liver cancer. This substance has been found in at least 616 of the 1,662 National Priority List sites identified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)."

So, I would not worry about it because there is no indication, at this time, that it is harmful, and that's the current state of the science.
Good luck.

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David L. Russell, PE


I`m a Chemical,Civil and Environmental Engineer and have a number of projects in all phases of the environment. I have worked in the chemical industry and am active in professional societies, and am currently on an industrial wastes committee for the Water Environment Federation, and have taught courses in remediation in the US and abroad. I have written one book on Remediation of petroleum Contaminated Sites, and have a second book on PRACTICAL WASTEWATER TREATMENT to be published by John Wiley in September, 2006. I've also written over 30 articles on various elements of environmental problems and cleanup. Most Recently, I have addressed a NATO Scientific and Techical Conference on Ecoterrorism, and have worked with the same group on remediation of sites contaminated with Chemical Warfare Agent materials and othe materials as well. . I can answer q`s about Chemical and Environmental Engineering, land development, air pollution, water pollution, soil and water cleanup, combustion, international environmental problems, industrial processes chemical processes. Civil and Environmental and Chemical Engineering. Overall, I have over 35 years of experience in this area. Note: I do not answer homework questions


I love work in the third world and developing areas because it is challenging and one can get a sense of accomplishment.

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