Toxic shower curtains? Study overblown, experts say
Published Thursday, June 12, 2008 6:37PM EDT
TORONTO - A new study says some plastic shower curtains may be hazardous to your health, but industry members and health experts call it "fear-mongering" and say more research needs to be done.
The U.S.-based Centre for Health, Environment and Justice says polyvinyl chloride (PVC) shower curtains release 108 toxic chemicals into the air. The study, released Thursday, found the ubiquitous PVC curtains contain harmful substances associated with a litany of adverse health effects to the lungs, central nervous system, liver and kidneys.
Some experts say the concerns have been exaggerated.
"It's not a big issue," said Warren Foster, a professor in the obstetrics and gynecology department at McMaster University in Hamilton.
"There's no question that chemicals such as these are potential hazards to human health. However, the difference between hazard and risk is great, and without knowing the actual human exposure, it's premature to make any judgment."
The study, conducted by Environmental Defence and the Canadian Environmental Law Association, examined shower curtains purchased in the U.S. from Bed Bath and Beyond, Kmart, Sears, Target and Wal-Mart stores. The vinyl shower curtains are also common in most major Canadian retailers.
A spokeswoman for Bed Bath and Beyond in Canada said Thursday the retailer is aware of the study's findings and is moving away from PVC curtains.
The study's authors are calling on Ottawa to ban PVC curtains and force manufacturers and retailers to instead sell cotton ones.
"The study results speak for themselves," said Theresa McClenaghan, executive director for the law association. "These are extremely high results for the initial period for sure, for indoor air."
Study called 'heavily biased'
The study tested five brands of shower curtains and found more than 100 volatile organic compounds were released into the air over a 28-day period. Each curtain contained some chemicals already banned in toys in some U.S. states and the European Union. In Canada, they're simply listed as "toxic."
Foster said the groups releasing the study are "heavily biased" and looking to confirm a hypothesis. A truly scientific study, he said, would look to test the hypothesis and also include controls and random sampling.
Vinyl shower curtains have been on the market for decades with no reported incidents of harm, said Marion Axmith, director general of the Vinyl Council of Canada.
"We want to reassure the public that shower curtains are not harmful," she said.
"This report is a blatant attempt to manipulate consumers and retailers into thinking shower curtains pose a danger, and they don't."
McClenaghan said she wasn't aware of any specific studies of people becoming ill from the curtains.
"There are a lot of anecdotal reports of people getting sick, in terms of very bad headaches and nausea and that sort of thing," she said.
She added the groups are more concerned with getting a message out about reducing exposure to all types of products that might give off harmful chemicals.
"Would it be the shower curtain alone that would be linked to that kind of health effect?" she asked. "It's more likely that would be one source of many, over time."