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this is why I have a fabric shower curtain liner :-)

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Copied From Seventh Generation – Ask Science Man
March 4, 2010

Are plastic shower curtains bad for the environment of your home? Thank you for any info on this.

Dear nowbymail, You are right to worry about the health risks associated with plastics in your home! Plastic shower curtains off-gas many toxic fumes and can significantly raise indoor toxic air concentrations for over a month! Most shower curtains are made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which contain high levels of hazardous chemicals such as phthalates and toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as toluene.

  • Phthalates, such as DEHP and DINP, comprise over 50% of PVC shower curtains. Phthalates are classified as endocrine disruptors because of their ability to interfere with the endocrine system in the body – that is, they can affect your hormones! DEHP is also classified as probable human carcinogen. Exposure to phthalates via inhalation or direct contact may increase the occurrence of developmental abnormalities and infertility in both males and females.
  • Toluene toxicity can occur in both humans and animals from short- and long-term exposure. Toluene toxicity affects the central nervous system (CNS). Humans acutely exposed to toluene by inhalation frequently experience fatigue, sleepiness, headaches, and nausea. Long-term exposure to toluene may cause CNS depression, developmental and reproductive effects, irritation to the eyes and respiratory tract, sore throat, dizziness, and headache. A 2008 study by the Center of Health, Environment and Justice found that 108 different VOCs are emitted by plastic shower curtains, including cyclohexanone, methyl isobutyl ketone (MIBK), phenol, and ethylbenzene. The level of total VOC concentration emitted is 16 times higher than recommendations established by the U.S. Green Building Council and Indoor Air Quality Program.

Off-gassing of toxins from plastic shower curtains (and other plastic materials) occurs when compounds are not chemically bound to the vinyl chloride (PVC) in the shower curtain. They can easily migrate from within the curtain to its surface and evaporate into the air. DEHP has a high vapor pressure and evaporates into the air faster than other phthalates.

The off-gassing and VOC emissions from plastic materials pollute the indoor environment of your home. Long-term inhalation exposure to harmful VOCs may ensue because certain household materials absorb VOCs and re-emit them over time. Beware of dust as well! Phthalates and other hazardous VOCs (including toluene) have been detected in house dust. Inhalation and direct exposure to this “toxic dust” has been associated with health effects including dermatitis and asthma.

You can improve the quality of your bathroom air with adequate ventilation and by replacing PVC plastic shower curtains with PVC-free shower curtains. Many stores offer polyester fabric shower curtains. Polyester does not contain phthalates or VOCs. Another good solution is to use shower curtains made from canvas. Canvas is better at resisting the absorption of water than regular cotton, plus it is a renewable resource that can be harvested organically.

References

  1. (2006) PVC-Free Alternatives Database. Healthy Building Network.
  2. Camann D, Zuniga M & Yau A (2007) PVC Shower Curtain Study Phase 1: Concentrations of potentially hazardous chemicals in PVC shower curtains. Southwest Research Institute [Project 12662.01]: Center for Health, Environment and Justice
  3. Chang J et al. (2002) Air Toxics Emissions from a Vinyl Shower Curtain. Indoor Air, 542-47.
  4. Lester S, Schade M & Weigand C (2008) Volatile vinyl: The new shower curtain’s chemical smell. Center for Health, Environment and Justice, Falls Church: Virginia
  5. Steingraber, S (2004) Update on the environmental health impacts of Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) as a building material: Evidence from 2000-2004. U.S. Green Building Council
  6. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (2007) Phthalates. Toxicity and Exposure Assessment for Children’s Health, TEACH Chemical Summary
  7. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (2007) Toluene. EPA Air Toxics Website
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