Study raises health concerns about shower curtains

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Monday, June 16, 2008

The Canadian Environmental Law Assocation and the Canadian organization Environmental Defence jointly conducted a study that was released to the public on Thursday, saying that chemicals released by new vinyl curtains may pose a significant health risk.

The study noted that many shower curtains contain more than 100 volatile organic compounds (VOCs), phthalates and organotins, some of which may be released into the air when first taken from a package. These chemicals, responsible for the characteristic smell of new vinyl, may cause damage to kidneys, the liver and the central nervous systems, respiratory problems, nausea, headaches and loss off coordination, according to the report.

These vinyl curtains are also said to contain traces of metals like lead, cadmium and mercury.

Jennifer Foulds of Environmental Defence advises consumers to seek alternatives to new vinyl products such as shower curtains and table cloths. Older products are thought to be safe, as they have already released most of the allegedly dangerous chemicals.

Critics of the study have called it "fear-mongering", and some health professionals agree that the risk is being overblown. Warren Foster, a professor in the obstetrics and gynecology department at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario points out that, "the difference between hazard and risk is great, and without knowing the actual human exposure, it's premature to make any judgement."

Foster further commented that the study was not performed in a rigorous manner by not having controls or random sampling.

Five brands of shower curtain were examined in the study; they were purchased from American stores including Bed Bath & Beyond, Kmart, Sears, Target and Wal-Mart. Curtains of the same brand are also available in major Canadian stores.

Marion Axmith, director general of the Vinyl Council of Canada calls the report a "blatant attempt to manipulate consumers and retailers into thinking shower curtains pose a danger, and they don't." She noted that, "as far as we know, nobody's ever been harmed by a shower curtain."

Vinyl has long been a point of dispute between environmentalists and those in the chemical industry. A chemical used to make vinyl is known to be a risk for liver and other cancers for chemical plant workers, and the phthalates in vinyl products have been linked to interference with normal male hormone production.


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