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Originally published October 30 2008

PVC Shower Curtains Emit Fumes of Toxic Chemicals

by David Gutierrez, staff writer

(NaturalNews) Vinyl shower curtains give off toxic chemicals that have been linked to serious damage to the respiratory, nervous and reproductive systems, according to a study conducted by researchers for the nonprofit Center for Health, Environment & Justice.

The study began as an attempt to discover the source of the "new shower curtain smell," which has been reported to make some people sick when a new curtain is first installed.

"This smell can make you feel sick, give you a headache, make you feel nauseous or [cause] other health effects," said study co-author Michael Schade.

The researchers analyzed the chemical composition of five new polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic shower curtains purchased from major retailers. They also tested the fumes coming off one of the curtains after the package was opened.

They found that the curtains contained high concentrations of chemicals known as phthalates, which are believed to disrupt the hormonal system and lead to problems with the reproductive system. The curtains also contained various concentrations of toxic tin-hydrocarbon compounds called organotins.

Because phthalates and organotins are not actually part of the chemical bonds of the plastic itself, but rather are added to soften it or otherwise change its properties, they are more prone to disperse from the curtain than other chemical ingredients - whether by clinging to household dust or dispersing directly into the air.

In addition to phthalates and organotins, the shower curtain was found to emit measurable quantities of 108 volatile organic compounds, including seven that have been classified as air pollutants by the Environmental Protection Agency: acetophenone, cumene, ethylbenzene, methyl isobutyl ketone, phenol, toluene and xylene. These compounds were found to persist in the air for almost a month.

Like phthalates and organotins, volatile organic compounds evaporate more easily than less toxic chemicals.

"PVC is just bad from cradle to cradle," said Martha Dina ArgŁello, executive director of the Los Angeles chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility. "It's a mess when you create [it], it's a mess when you get rid of it, and it's off-gassing when you're using it."

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