As part of an ongoing campaign against polyvinyl chloride, a Virginia-based environmental advocacy group today called on manufacturers and retailers to phase out its use in shower curtains. To buttress its case, the group, the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, released the results of a small study indicating that PVC-containing shower curtains are capable of emitting scores of volatile organic compounds, as well as phthalates, lead, and other potentially harmful materials, into people’s bathrooms. A previous study, conducted by Environmental Protection Agency researchers, also found that plastic shower curtains can emit toxic compounds into the air.
There’s still debate among scientists about just how serious the health effects are that have been associated with exposure to some of the chemicals highlighted as dangerous, especially at low doses. However, CHEJ, which has particularly strong concerns about the environmental and health toll in communities with factories that manufacture PVC, urges consumers to avoid using PVC shower curtains, as well as many other PVC products, particularly those that are flexible.
For people who are concerned about their shower curtains, there are alternatives. IKEA phased out PVC shower curtains 11 years ago, switching to ethylene vinyl acetate. Target, the country’s fifth-largest retailer, has also committed to replacing many of its shower curtains with EVA. The company has said that 88 percent of its shower curtains would be PVC free by spring of 2008. Bed Bath and Beyond, JCPenney, and Macy’s are shifting toward PVC-free shower curtains, according to the report, but have not set goals or a time frame for completely eliminating the products.
Manufacturers are not required to label shower curtains, but some do list “PVC” or “vinyl” on the packaging. The recycling code “3” or sometimes “V” also indicates the presence of polyvinyl chloride. Numerous online retailers, such as EcoChoices, Pristine Planet, and Greenfeet, sell shower curtains--primarily cotton or hemp--that are free of PVC. Without good ventilation, however, mildew can be a problem with cotton and hemp products. In response to such problems, Healthgoods sells a recycled polyester plastic shower curtain that it claims is superior to the fabric options.
For a comprehensive list of other products that may contain PVC, you can check this compilation from CHEJ. In the past, U.S. News has written about other problematic chemicals in certain plastics, such as phthalates and bisphenol A. Here’s how you can avoid the former, as well as the latter.