Roughly half of the world’s polyvinyl chloride resin manufactured annually is used for producing pipes for various municipal and industrial applications. In the water distribution market it accounts for 66% of the market in the US, and in sanitary sewer pipe applications, it accounts for 75%. Its light weight, high strength, and low reactivity make it particularly well-suited to this purpose. In addition, PVC pipes can be fused together using various solvent cements, or heat-fused (butt-fusion process, similar to joining HDPE pipe), creating permanent joints that are virtually impervious to leakage.
In February, 2007 the California Building Standards Code was updated to approve the use of chlorinated polyvinyl chloride (CPVC) pipe for use in residential water supply piping systems. CPVC has been a nationally accepted material in the US since 1982; California, however, has permitted only limited use since 2001. The Department of Housing and Community Development prepared and certified an Environmental Impact Report resulting in a recommendation that the Commission adopt and approve the use of CPVC. The Commission’s vote was unanimous and CPVC has been placed in the 2007 California Plumbing Code.
In the United States and Canada, PVC pipes account for the largest majority of pipe materials used in buried municipal applications for drinking water distribution and wastewater mains.
Polyvinyl chloride, (IUPAC Poly(chloroethanediyl)) commonly abbreviated PVC, is a thermoplastic polymer. It is a vinyl polymer constructed of repeating vinyl groups (ethenyls) having one of their hydrogens replaced with a chloride group.
Polyvinyl chloride is the third most widely produced plastic, after polyethylene and polypropylene. PVC is widely used in construction because it is cheap, durable, and easy to assemble. PVC production is expected to exceed 40 million tons by 2016.
It can be made softer and more flexible by the addition of plasticizers, the most widely used being phthalates. In this form, it is used in clothing and upholstery, and to make flexible hoses and tubing, flooring, to roofing membranes, and electrical cable insulation. It is also commonly used in figurines and in inflatable products such as waterbeds, pool toys, and inflatable structures.
PVC was accidentally discovered at least twice in the 19th century, first in 1835 by Henri Victor Regnault and in 1872 by Eugen Baumann. On both occasions the polymer appeared as a white solid inside flasks of vinyl chloride that had been left exposed to sunlight. In the early 20th century the Russian chemist Ivan Ostromislensky and Fritz Klatte of the German chemical company Griesheim-Elektron both attempted to use PVC (polyvinyl chloride) in commercial products, but difficulties in processing the rigid, sometimes brittle polymer blocked their efforts. Waldo Semon and the B.F. Goodrich Company developed a method in 1926 to plasticize PVC by blending it with various additives. The result was a more flexible and more easily processed material that soon achieved widespread commercial use.