By now you have hopefully heard that the once-coveted "new car smell" is actually the product of off-gassing of toxic volatile organic compounds (please don't buy it in a can). You may not have thought about it, but the same rule of caution applies to vinyl shower curtains.
When you tear open that wrapper on a new plastic curtain, you can smell the off gassing. We've reported before that typical vinyl (polyvinyl chloride, or PVC) shower curtains often contain the chemical additive DEHP, a phthalate that is a suspected carcinogen and has been linked to hormonal disruption in humans. An EPA study had found that vinyl shower curtains can elevate air toxins in your home for more than a month.
Now, the Virginia-based Center for Health, Environment & Justice has announced the results of a study they commissioned two years ago on the topic, and which recently completed. CHEJ's researchers tested the chemical makeup of five unopened plastic shower curtains bought from Bed Bath & Beyond, Kmart, Sears, Target and Wal-Mart. One of those products was then tested for off gassing.
Not surprising is the fact that the study found high concentrations of phthalates in the curtains, which are often added to make them more pliable. The sample tested for releases was found to emit 108 VOCs, some of which stuck around for a month, and several of which are listed by the EPA as air pollutants (toluene, ethylbenzene, phenol, methyl isobutyl ketone, xylene, acetophenone and cumene).
Potential impacts of these VOCs include liver and nerve damage and respiratory and reproductive problems.
The American Chemistry Council continues to say that there is no reliable evidence that such VOCs pose any real threat in the home. Critics have pointed out that the study's sample size was exceedingly small, that the results haven't been verified by an independent lab, and that the lab conditions may not accurately replicate true home environments. Even so, CHEJ is urging retailers to stop carrying vinyl shower curtains.
The LA Times has reported that Target, Sears and Kmart claim they will actually be phasing out curtains that contain PVC. That's exciting news, and should give pause for concern to the industry.
Try These Safer Alternatives Instead
1. Buy non-PVC plastic shower curtains
These options are becoming increasingly available. They may be made of ethylene vinyl acetate or other plastics. If you can't tell from packaging, ask a store associate. Target told the LA Times that 90% of the retailer's private label curtains are already PVC free.
2. Better Yet, Go with Fabric
Fabric shower curtains have the convenience of being machine washable (in most cases), so they are easier to keep clean and mold-free anyway. Look for organic cotton or naturally antimicrobial bamboo, which are also eco-friendly.
3. Skip the Curtain and Install Glass
Glass shower doors can boost the value of your bathroom, and will eliminate the need to buy new curtains.
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.