The New York Times has a story today looking back at the toxic shower curtain scare of a few weeks ago.
The author is critical of major media outlets for picking up on the story. (TDG ran the item under the relatively sober headline Study Highlights Dangers of Vinyl Shower Curtains). The Times points out that the Consumer Product Safety Commission and others have criticized the initial study as too small and flawed. Yet the papers characterization of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice as an obscure if official-sounding group is unfortunate, since CHEJ has been at the forefront of protecting childrens and public health since founder Lois Gibbs pioneering work at Love Canal.
The Times argues that the shower curtain story is another example of slick PR maneuvering, of issuing press releases with carefully crafted, grabby headlines and timing. Words like toxic, cancer, sex and so on are said to be key hot buttons. Interestingly, the article also notes that green is now sufficiently hot to be placed in this same category.
Its true that those in the media, government agencies and others in public life need to be ever vigilant about the potential for hype, overstated or misstated claims. But its also true that there are many very real threats to the planet and personal health and safety. The mainstream media and big agencies also have forces working on them (from industry lobbyists, inertia, lack of funding and so on) to downplay risks, even as they have forces to sensationalize.
Like most things, this kind of theater is a balancing act. We need advocacy groups doing independent testing and getting the word out, just as we need more staid agencies to review data. It seems probably that the truth will lie somewhere in between. That said, we think it still makes a lot of sense to skip vinyl shower curtains in favor of more natural alternatives.
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