Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Stinky Shower Curtain

When I moved into my apartment about 12 years ago, I bought a new shower curtain.  Since I only have a shower stall, I cut the curtain in half length-wise to save the second half for when the first half wore out.  (I am a frugal New Englander, afterall!)  The curtain had a strong smell in my bathroom for a long time.

After eight years, the first half was ripping off the shower curtain rings, so I discarded it, and pulled the second half out of the original plastic packaging.  The smell was intense.  After all those years, the shower curtain was still outgassing its chemicals because it had been folded up and stored in plastic holding in the toxic fumes--only to be released when I removed it from the package.

A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study in 2002 said the toxic fumes could be smelled in a house for over a month.  In 2008, the Center for Health, Environment, and Justice performed another study which confirmed the approximate length of time the fumes remain in the home.

Key findings of the Center's report include that PVC shower curtains:

-   release over 100 chemicals into the air
-   contain high levels of phthalates
-   contain high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
-   contain organotins
-   contain lead, cadmium, and other metals
-   release an increase of chemicals with the rise of heat and humidity
-   are being phased out by retailers

Recommendations for consumers:

-   Avoid shower curtains made with PVC, as well as other PVC products, especially those that are flexible. These products are not always labeled although some may be labeled as “vinyl” or “PVC.”   This includes toys!!
-   Do not buy shower curtains that are not labeled.
-   Purchase PVC-free shower curtains made out of safer materials including organic cotton.

It can be confusing to know the difference in types of plastics since the name "vinyl" is often used for more than one kind of plastic.  The universal recycling symbol for PVC is the number "3."  (Note that very little recycling of PVC goes on.)  And when you're only given acronyms for plastic materials, it's the "C" for chlorine that should clue you in that it will be outgassing in your home.  When is "vinyl" not PVC?  The Healthy Building Network provides a quick primer on plastics.

I know more about this PVC plastic now, and I'd never buy a PVC curtain again! I figure I've got another four years to use the PVC curtain I already have.  It's already outgassed into my apartment a few years ago.  I like the idea of a fabric option as I could toss it into the wash and then hang it to dry.

And when my PVC curtain is worn out as a shower curtain, I won't throw it into the trash right away this time, I'll use it as a tarp for something else--like hauling autumn leaves into the woods.

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