Vinyl Shower Curtains Dangerous for Health and Environment
As many as 100 toxic chemicals associated with adverse health effects are released into the air from PVC vinyl shower curtains according to “Volatile Vinyl: The New Shower Curtain’s Chemical Smell,” a new study released today by the Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ), the Washington Toxics Coalition, People For Puget Sound, and the Toxic-Free Legacy Coalition.
As many as 100 toxic chemicals associated with adverse health
effects are released into the air from PVC vinyl shower curtains
according to “Volatile Vinyl: The New Shower Curtain’s Chemical Smell,”
a new study released today by the Center for Health, Environment &
Justice (CHEJ), the Washington Toxics Coalition, People For Puget
Sound, and the Toxic-Free Legacy Coalition. These chemicals make up
that “new shower curtain smell” unique to PVC vinyl shower curtains and
shower curtain liners.
“Taking a shower shouldn’t be harmful to your health. It is inexcusable that toxic shower curtains are being sold to consumers, especially when cost-effective alternatives are available,” said Ivy Sager- Rosenthal, Environmental Health Advocate for the Washington Toxics Coalition. “Consumers, especially parents, shouldn’t have to worry that a product they bring into their home will harm their children.”
Though ubiquitous in homes around the world, PVC shower curtains contain many harmful chemicals, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs), phthalates and organotins. Toxic chemical off-gassing from PVC shower curtains may contribute to respiratory irritation, damage to the central nervous system, liver and kidney, nausea, headaches and loss of coordination.
Not only do these chemicals harm human health, but they also harm wildlife and have been shown to be present in Puget Sound, some at high levels. When the chemicals off-gas they either get flushed down the drain or attach to dust particles, ultimately reaching Puget Sound through sewage treatment plants or storm water. Some chemicals, such as phthalates, may off-gas over many years.
“A recent study found phthalates at high levels in sewage treatment plants discharging into Puget Sound and in storm water. It appears that a significant source of these chemicals in Puget Sound is most likely consumer products we use in our homes and businesses,” said Heather Trim, Urban Bays and Toxics Program Manager for People For Puget Sound. “We need to get these products off store shelves.”
PVC shower curtains purchased at Bed Bath & Beyond, Kmart, Sears, Target and Wal-Mart were tested. Key findings include:
- 108 different volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were released into the air from a shower curtain over a twenty-eight day period;
- The level of total VOCs measured was over 16 times greater than the recommended guidelines for indoor air quality established by the U.S. Green Building Council. This level persisted
- All five curtains tested in phase one contained phthalates DEHP and DINP, chemicals banned in children’s toys in California, Washington, and the European Union;
- Seven of the chemicals found are classified as hazardous air pollutants by the EPA under the Clean Air Act.
(For the full report, including methodology and findings, visit www.watoxics.org/files/VolatileVinyl.pdf)
“Anytime a product like this is brought into the home, it affects every member of the family. Children are especially vulnerable because they are small and, pound for pound, they eat more, breathe more, and consume more than adults. So even a small exposure is a big dose,” said Dr. Steve Gilbert, toxicologist with the Institute for and an expert on children’s health. “This report shows we need a better system in Washington to make sure chemicals used in consumer products are safe and children are able to reach their full potential.”
Washington State is beginning to adopt a better system for addressing chemicals in consumer products, recently passing the Children’s Safe Products Act. This act establishes strict limits for lead, cadmium, and phthalates in children’s products and requires manufacturers of children’s products to disclose to the public whether their products contain chemicals that may be harmful to children’s health.
“While the Children’s Safe Product Act is a great first step for children’s health, this new report shows there is a need to expand the scope and address all products in the home that may pose a risk to children,” said Sager-Rosenthal.
Retailers Ikea and Marks and Spencer sell PVC-free shower curtains, but the nation’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart, has not phased out PVC shower curtains, despite its stated commitment to environmental sustainability. Bed Bath and Beyond, JC Penney, Sears/Kmart, Macys, and Target have all developed plans to offer more PVC-free shower curtains, but not all have set 100 percent PVC-free phase out plans and goals.
Consumers should avoid vinyl shower curtains and instead choose curtains made of cotton, polyester, or nylon. For more information on how consumers can avoid vinyl products and find healthy alternatives, visit www.watoxics.org/issues/vinyl-pvc/avoiding-vinyl-products-at-home. For additional tips on choosing the safest children’s products visit
ATTENTION REPORTERS: To download the report, broadcast quality b-roll, high-resolution photos, and other resources visit