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As this year’s rainy season started in Northern California, I realized that my son did not have rain boots. Most parents simply go to the store and buy rain boots. Not me. I launched an intensive research campaign to understand what goes into making rain boots, narrowed the pool of manufacturers of non-toxic rain boots to a few, contacted them, and selected the best boot for my little boy. As you may guess, my research factored in an affordable price. By the time I completed my research, the rainy season was coming to an end, I was not willing to pay top money for something that would be used a few times.
PVC (aka Vinyl) for Non-Toxic Rain Boots?
So what is the problem with rain boots? Why is it important to know what they are made of? The most common material used for rain boots, both kids and adults, is PVC (aka vinyl). And vinyl (recycle code #3) is also the most toxic plastic. It is toxic during its manufacture; it is toxic to the plant workers, and to the end consumers.
Vinyl is a major environmental pollutant. When pure, vinyl is 57% chlorine. Chlorine ends up in our water, soil, etc. Also, when PVC is burned, this chlorine produces extremely toxic and persistent dioxins that ends up in soil, fish, animals, water, air, and ultimately in our bodies. According to Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, “the entire lifecycle of vinyl is nothing short of an environmental nightmare.” During its manufacture, besides carcinogenic dioxins, many other toxic substances get released into the environment, including vinyl chloride, ethylene dichloride, dioxins, mercury, and PCB’s, to name a few.
Vinyl in its natural state is not suitable for making consumer products (especially for non-toxic rain boots). Thus, toxic chemicals are added to it during its manufacture to impart qualities it does not have. For instance, phthalates are added to vinyl to make it flexible. Heavy metals are added to make it more durable. The problem is that these additives are not permanently bound to the plastic, and are gradually released into the atmosphere. Have you noticed how old plastic becomes brittle and crumbles? That’s because some of the additives (in this case, the plasticizer) has escaped into the environment. In our case, they escape and end up absorbed by the skin, ingested, and inhaled.
For the health impact of phthalates, see my “Phthalates Primer” post. As for heavy metals, it is well known that they should not be in our system, especially in the developing bodies of our children. According to Physicians for Social Responsibility, exposure to heavy metals causes serious health effects, including reduced growth and development, cancer, organ damage, nervous system damage, and in extreme cases, death.
Synthetic Rubber for Non-Toxic Rain Boots?
Now you can understand why I was not going to buy vinyl rain boots. What is another common waterproof material for non-toxic rain boots – synthetic rubber? What is it? In short, it is a type of plastic derived from petroleum. Synthetic rubber is highly toxic. Manufacturers use many toxic additives, including solvents, pigments, and plasticizers to name a few. The industry is toxic to the environment, its workers, and end users. As with all plastic, nobody ever explains what goes into its making. Good luck asking a manufacturer of synthetic rubber boots to explain what they use to make the synthetic rubber.
A note on the dangers of plastics in general is in order. There is a recent CertiChem lab study that looked to see whether plastic products are safer without BPA. BPA is used as a plasticizer. The problem is that it’s not like MSG in food – you can’t just remove it. If you remove BPA as a plasticizer, you have to put something else in. BPA received a lot of bad press and so a lot of products advertise that they are “BPA free” as if that makes them safer. The study shows that BPA-free products are not necessarily safer, and in many cases are even more toxic.
Natural Rubber for Non-Toxic Rain Boots?
So, if PVC and synthetic rubber are out, what is in? Natural rubber. Natural rubber comes from the sap of rubber trees (Hevea brasiliensis) grown in rain forests. If done properly sapping can be done without harming the trees. I would be lying to you if I said that natural rubber is absolutely harmless. The natural rubber industry does its share of environmental pollution. The main concerns are smoke particles, wastewater, and ammonia odor (ammonia is used for the preservation of sap).
Nevertheless, natural rubber seems to be the least toxic material as it comes from a renewable resource, is biodegradable, and is free of petrochemicals, heavy metals, and phthalates. Its manufacture is not reliant on many toxic additives like vinyl and synthetic rubber. Thus, natural rubber is the suitable material for making non-toxic rain boots.
To learn which boots I decided to get for my son, visit here.