Friday, June 13, 2008

Vinyl Shower Curtains a 'Volatile' Hazard

Vinyl shower curtains release over 100 toxic chemicals into the air in people's bathrooms, including known carcinogens and reproductive toxins, according to a new report calling for the ban of Polyvinyl chloride in bath curtains and liners.

The laboratory tests of five new PVC shower curtains, released Thursday, found 108 different volatile organic compounds were released into the air over a 28-day period, including off-gassing above the recommended level in the United States for seven days.

These compounds can cause respiratory irritation, headaches, nausea and damage to the liver, kidney and the central nervous system. Some VOCs are also suspected or known to cause cancer in humans.

The shower curtains also contained phthalates (DEHP), already banned in children's toys in California, Washington and the European Union. Canada has listed DEHP as a "toxic" substance and has recommended it be banned in children's products, but has yet to implement the recommendation.

Two of the chemicals detected, toluene and ethylbenzene, are also on California's Proposition 65 list. The law prohibits companies doing business in the state from exposing individuals to chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity without first giving consumers a clear warning.

Several other chemicals found in the curtains are considered a human health concern under Canada's Environmental Protection Act, including ethylbenzene, but are not regulated.

The Canadian Environmental Law Association and Environmental Defence released the results in Canada. The report, titled Volatile Vinyl: The New Shower Curtain's Chemical Smell, was done by the Virginia-based Center for Health, Environment and Justice.

"Everybody knows that smell, and it's not a particularly pleasant smell. It's like a confirmation of common sense. Things that have a heavy chemical smell are probably not good for you. This just puts numbers to it," said Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence.

More importantly, said Smith, it draws attention to the "largely invisible, insidious" problem of indoor air pollutants.

"This study is yet further confirmation that indoor air quality, the toxic ingredients of run-of-the-mill consumer products in our homes, are perhaps an even more serious source of pollution than belching smoke stacks."

The groups are calling on the federal government to ban PVC in shower curtains altogether, and declare the chemicals emitted from PVC in consumer products as hazardous indoor air pollutants and regulate their use in consumer products.

Smith, a parent of two young boys, said the amount of time families spend in the bathroom makes this case a particularly pressing matter.

"Kneeling beside the tub giving my two little kids a bath many times a week, being eye to eye with the shower curtain, having my younger son play peek-a-boo, brings you face to face with the shower curtain on the regular basis, not to mention having your son chewing on it," said Smith.

Some retailers are also moving away from PVC shower curtains.

Sears has developed plans to offer more PVC-free shower curtains, while Ikea plans to phase out PVC shower curtains altogether.

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Anonymous DanH said...

More scare tactics and fearmongering from special interest groups. What your story didn't say was that the mere presence of a substance doesn’t make it dangerous. It’s the level of exposure that matters. Too much sunlight can be fatal. So can too much water or too much oxygen. How many of the “toxic chemicals” in shower curtains exist at a level that make them harmful to people? If we wanted to avoid “toxic chemicals” at all levels in our everyday lives, we’d never eat, drink or breathe again. As they say in the scientific world, “the poison is in the dose.” Unless you’re ready with a study showing a staggering number of people dying from exposure to shower curtains, I’m not ready to take this latest sky-is-falling story too seriously. If I’m wrong, feel free to educate me. You won't, of course, because the truth is much less scary than you'd have people believe.

1:12 AM  

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