By Daryn Eller
While the Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ) recently reported that shower curtains made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) can be a health hazard, not everyone agrees.
"Our expert staff did a cursory review of the report released on shower curtains and found many problems with the methodology," says Julie Vallese, director of information and public affairs for the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission.
Nevertheless, this is not the first time the safety of shower curtains has been questioned. A 2002 Environmental Protection Agency study found that these curtains release several hazardous chemicals. The CHEJ's research goes even further, showing that over a span of 28 days, new vinyl shower curtains release 108 potentially toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs). What's more, it's these potentially hazardous chemicals that produce the distinctive "new shower curtain smell." Inhaling VOCs has been linked to ear, nose and throat irritation; headaches; and -- more worrisome -- damage to the liver, kidneys and nervous system. Some VOCs have also been associated with cancer in animals.
Since the study didn't go beyond 28 days, it's not known whether PVC shower curtains continue to release VOCs indefinitely or only until the smell goes away. "But we think it's better to be safe than sorry, so we're urging people to return even older shower curtains to the store where they bought them or to the manufacturer," says Michael Schade, coordinator of the CHEJ's PVC campaign. By returning the curtains rather than throwing them out, says Schade, consumers can use their power to influence the marketplace. In fact, it may already be working: Many retailers, including IKEA, Target and Bed, Bath & Beyond are phasing out vinyl shower curtains and offering other options, such as cloth and more environmentally friendly EVA and PEVA vinyls.
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