Toxic Showers: Study Confirms PVC Curtains Problematic

Organic cotton shower curtain featured above in http://www.greenearthmarket.com

By Shana

The LA Times reported this morning that PVCs and other toxic chemicals are released from shower curtains according to a new study. This article is very timely as it falls just a few days after Green Cotton’s post on greening shower curtains and serves to confirm once again problems associated with certain plastic, vinyl curtains.

In this latest study, researchers tested the ‘chemical composition of five unopened polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, plastic shower curtains bought from Bed Bath & Beyond, Kmart, Sears, Target and Wal-Mart. One of the curtains was then tested to determine the chemicals it released into the air.’

As noted in the previous post, certain shower curtains contain high concentrations of PVCs and subsequently phthalates. Phthalates are linked to reproductive effects and other detrimental side effects. In addition, varying concentrations of organotins, compounds based on tin and hydrocarbons were found in the curtains tested in this study. In fact, one tested curtain released measurable quantities of as many as 108 volatile organic compounds into the air, some of which persisted for nearly a month.

To last 24 hours is one thing, but a whole month? I don’t know about you, but I certainly do not want to expose my bare skin in a hot shower for a whole month to waves of toxic chemicals.

Stephen Lester, science director for the center conducting the study and co-author, notes that seven of the identified chemicals — toluene, ethylbenzene, phenol, methyl isobutyl ketone, xylene, acetophenone and cumene have been identified by the Environmental Protection Agency as hazardous air pollutants.

Potential health effects from exposure to the chemicals include developmental damage and harm to the liver and the central nervous, respiratory and reproductive systems, according to the report.

Phthalates and organotins, which are not chemically bonded to the shower curtain, frequently are added to soften or ‘enhance’ the curtain. Lester further notes that chemical additives evaporate and cling to household dust more easily than the chemicals in the curtains themselves. Volatile organic compounds also evaporate more easily than the less harmful chemicals.

The LA Times writes, ‘vinyl chloride, which is a major building block of PVC, is a known human carcinogen that causes liver cancer,’ according to study co-author.

Furthermore, “[PVC] is a mess when you create [it], it’s a mess when you get rid of it, and it’s off-gassing when you’re using it,” says Martha Dina Argüello, executive director of the Los Angeles chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility.

So what is the solution?

See Green Cotton’s post on ‘Greener’ Showers Start with the Curtain’ for more details, but essentially, 1) don’t buy PVC curtains, 2) use shower curtains as long as you can and 3) buy green where-ever possible—organic cotton, recycled cotton, bamboo or other sustainable fibers.

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