February 10, 2008

blue vinyl: the world's first toxic comedy

Rating:★★★★★
Category:Movies
Genre: Documentary

A few years back we somehow managed to get on the phone lists of several local window companies who wanted to give us a great deal on new vinyl windows. I hate telemarketers, especially telemarketers who want to sell me something I don't need and didn't ask for. But, being little Meg, meek and mild (stop laughing, Rob), I often listen to a telemarketers schpiel before politely declining. The vinyl window people put me over the edge, though. Not only hadn't I asked for them to call me, but when I politely said no, they started getting pushing. So that's when I pushed back. I would rant and rave about how bad PVC (Poly Vinyl Chloride) is for the environment. I'd blather on about how it's the worst form of plastic in the world today and that there's no way I'd put it on my house.

But the truth of the matter was that I really didn't know squat about PVC. I'd heard that it was a big baddy, but I didn't know why. So when I saw the documentary blue vinyl at the library, I jumped at the chance to find out more. (We're also going to have to order windows soon, so I figured this would help me decide just how much I really want to go through the drama of avoiding vinyl. Based on what the telemarketers said, vinyl appears to be fairly ubiquitous in new windows.)

Blue vinyl is the story of Judith Helfand and her parent's house. When the wood siding on the house started to rot, they decided to replace it with vinyl siding. Judith, a victim of DES related cancer whose ordeal led her to become hyper sensitive to the issue of toxins and their interaction with humanity, decided to do a little research on vinyl. The documentary covers about 5 years of research and explores not only the problems with PVC (including the number of PVC plant workers that have died from exposure to the product, but also the cover-ups by both European and American companies regarding the dangers), but also the search to find an alternative house siding that would be both affordable, and meet with Judith's mother's approval.

I felt like the documentary was very well done. As a viewer, I felt that I was being drawn into an exploration that wasn't already pre-determined. Though Judith started out with obvious concern about the product, she also started with ignorance as to the dangers, and she walks the viewer through her own thought process as well as through the information that she discovers in a clear and orderly way that helps the viewer feel like a partner in discovery rather than a voyeur in anger (a feeling Michael Moore's "documentaries" always leave me with). In the end, Judith's parents, who were very clear in the beginning that they thought she was being rather foolish to be concerned about the vinyl, decided to take the siding off their house and replace it with something less toxic.

I would definitely recommend this movie. It has it's funny moments, as well as it's tragically sad points. I feel like I have a much better sense of the problems with PVC after watching blue vinyl, and I have a renewed plan to research all-wood windows to install in our house.

26 comments:

  1. Sounds very good and I shall watch out for it. Just as a by-the-way: we are currently taking our double-glazers to court as a result of faulty workmanship which caused me to break my foot. This case has been going on for nearly 18 months, but I think I can now see the light at the end of the tunnel. I shall keep you posted as to the results. However, despite all this, they still call us continuously to ask if we would like any more work done!

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  2. I had nary a clue there was an issue with vinyl siding...joy.

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  3. just having the siding on your house isn't really a problem unless you have a fire. then you're much more likely going to die from the poisons released from the PVC (in the siding, the plumbing pipes, the windows, etc.) than you are from the smoke inhalation or from the fire itself.

    the movie spends a fair bit of time in louisiana, which is apparently the PVC capital of the US. Judith explores the problems with making the vinyl -- cancer among workers, etc. -- and even gets involved with a group that tests the air quality around the factory, which finds that there's much more dioxin (a by-product of vinyl production) in the air than the factory admits to or the government allows.

    the problem with dioxin is that it takes forever and a year to break down. so once it's been put into the air, it's no longer just a problem for those living in louisiana....

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  4. I see. Won't put vinyl siding on our house, but good info to add to my paranoia (once in a great while we spend the night at a relative's house that has vinyl siding). Joy.

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  5. judith had a dude from cali. come help her find a replacement for the house and he insisted in sleeping in a tent in the back yard. ;-)

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  6. Awesome. Funny thing is that my in-laws wouldn't bat an eye if I told them I was choosing to spend the night in a tent in the backyard rather then their sided house. Yeah, I have a rep.

    :-P

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  7. good question.

    i have no clue. they didn't really talk about the tent. it was just one of those things you noticed in passing.

    aren't most tents made of nylon? what is nylon made out of?

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  8. I'm safe, my HOA will not allow vinyl siding and my windows are wood. mom

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  9. really? they're made of vinyl?

    they showed in the movie (in a little cartoon dealie) how much stuff vinyl's in that we might never think of.

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  10. I think you revel in making us pull information from you, smarty pants. I'll bite, so what are some things we'd never think of containing vinyl?

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  11. grrrr, i don't remember them all. i just remember the cartoon scrolling from one household item to another (plumbing pipes, windows, dolls, IV bags and tubes, ....) and each of them were either made entirely from vinyl, or had parts that included vinyl.

    there was one section of the movie where judith visited a habitat for humanity project that was dubbed "vinyl" because it was sponsored by a vinyl making company that supplied all the parts for the house that were made with vinyl (which was most of the house, according to the movie).

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  12. same thing can be said about new carpet... my mom dreads getting new carpet

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  13. When did they add the stars for replies?!

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  14. It was a really enjoyable movie. I thought the producer [?] struck a nice balance of making it both educational and yet enjoyable. Some of these types of documentary movies outdo the best hell and damnation Baptist preachers in their seriousness and call to complete repentance. She was a bit more light hearted, though she did get her parents to repent of their vinyl siding!

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  15. they've been there for as long as i can remember.

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  16. Michael Moore being one of the pro's.

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  17. Oh my goodness...have you seen a Michael Moore documentary?! Just kidding. I only had issue with one Moore flick, the 9/11 movie which was a bit harsh. His other flicks are informative, but entertaining as well...well, when they're not depressing.

    :-)

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  18. and when you're not watching a rabbit get skinned. :-P

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  19. Oh yeah, I had forgotten about that one...

    :-P

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  20. Great, now I'm gonna go to bed thinking of that poor bunny.

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  21. **I'm** not the one that put it into a movie about auto manufacturing employees.

    honestly! what was he thinking? that man just loves to get a rise out of people, and if there's an extra way to jab a little harder, he throws it in there.

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  22. I agree that it was pointless, and even detracted from the message. Something so offbeat and unrelated to the story like that is more appropriate in fictional cinema. For example... The topless lady who suddenly runs into frame in the movie Airplane! Or... My personal favorite... In the Coen brothers masterpiece Fargo... There's a side story thrust into the middle of the thickest most dramatic part of the plot where Mrs. Gunderson (Frances McDormand's cop character) is tempted by an old high school classmate who turns out to be a nut. Brilliant in its total irrelevance to the rest of the film.

    The bunny slaying in Roger & Me? Brilliant for a mental patient. Maybe.

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  23. Ah Fargo - one of the best films ever!

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