The Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ) has issued warnings about the long-term effects of exposure to “the poison plastic,” and strongly urges retailers to remove all vinyl shower curtains from their shelves. (Check out their fun video for more information at www.pvcfree.org.) The group also urged the Consumer Product Safety Commission to issue a formal recall of PVC shower curtains as a public health risk.
While there have been no deaths or illnesses directly attributed to vinyl shower curtains, PVC exposure presents known risks. The phthalates (plastic softeners) in PVC have been linked to cancers and reproductive diseases, especially among factory workers. Phthalates also offgas potentially harmful substances, evident in that new-vinyl shower curtain smell. Finally, PVC can’t be readily recycled and gives off hazardous fumes if incinerated.
The good news? Several terrific cloth options are healthier and more eco-friendly. Natural fibers such as cotton, linen and hemp don’t offgas and are biodegradable. If mildew is an issue in your home, recyclable, nonhazardous nylon or polyester may be an option.
Hemp is rapidly renewable, though hemp fiber sold in the United States is imported because of agricultural restrictions (the plant is related to the marijuana plant). It’s antimicrobial, resistant to fading and durable. Find hemp grown and processed without pesticides and chemicals.
Linen is derived from the flax plant. For shower curtains, it’s often left undyed, and the naturally crinkly quality can be an attractive textural feature.
Cotton is natural, renewable and biodegradable, but most is farmed with intensive reliance on pesticides and heavy water use. Choose certified organic cotton, or look for fiber grown without pesticides. Avoid fabric bleached with chlorine or dyed with synthetics.
A vinyl shower curtain releases 108 different volatile organic compounds into the air over 28 days. —Center for Health, Environment and Justice