The use of PVC or vinyl was discussed at the Spring 2013 ISO meeting on image permanence and durability that was held in Copenhagen. Because vinyl is convenient and economical, manufacturers would like to use this material for photo books and other products. Currently, ISO standards prohibit this material, and in the interest of providing a complete understanding of the situation, I prepared a review of the technical literature on PVC.
What I found was quite disturbing. PVC is inherently less stable than other materials. In addition, it tends to release plasticizers over time, which damage materials that are in contact with it. There is no such thing as photosafe PVC.
I recommended that the current prohibition against PVC use remain in place and that recommendation was accepted; however, manufacturers have been given one year to demonstrate the safety of PVC for archival preservation.
What does this mean? Current standards prohibiting the use of PVC are voluntary. Consequently, we must be alert for products that may damage photos and destroy memories. If a product is not clearly labelled PVC-free or vinyl-free, contact the manufacturer and ask them if their products contain PVC or vinyl. If the manufacturer won’t tell you or doesn’t know, select another product.
PVC was responsible for one of the great photographic disasters, with harmful “magnetic” pages destroying many photos. We need to prevent a repeat of this disaster, and we can only do so by being informed about the products we use.
For my complete presentation see Effect of PVC on Imaging Materials.