100+ Chemicals Released Into Air from PVC Shower Curtains Sold at Major Retail Outlets

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Results from a two-phase study released June 12 by the Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ) show that shower curtains made with polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic contain many harmful chemicals, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs), phthalates and organotins. These shower curtains are potentially toxic to consumers’ health.


Vinyl shower curtains and liners release chemicals into the home that are most easily identified by that “new shower curtain smell” and are routinely sold at major retail outlets. Potential adverse health effects include respiratory irritation; central nervous system, liver and kidney damage; nausea; headaches; and loss of coordination. 

Among the study’s key findings: 

  • 108 different volatile organic compounds were released from the shower curtain into the air over 28 days. 
  • After one week, 40 different VOCs were detected in the air; after two weeks, 16 VOCS; after three weeks, 11 VOCs; and after four weeks, 4 VOCs. 
  • The level of Total VOCs measured was more than 16 times greater than the recommended guidelines for indoor air quality established by the U.S. Green Building Council, violating these guidelines for seven days. 
  • Just one new PVC shower curtain will release Total VOCs that exceed the typical residential level for four days. 
  • The concentration of Total VOCs in the Wal-Mart–tested shower curtain was so high that the analytical equipment was saturated, and further testing had to be halted so that lab equipment would not be damaged. 
  • All five curtains tested in phase one contained the phthalates DEHP and DINP, chemicals banned in children’s toys in California, Washington and the European Union. 
  • This testing did not replicate temperature and humidity conditions typically found in a shower, which would likely increase the concentrations of volatile pollutants released from a PVC curtain into the air of a bathroom; concentrations of these chemicals are likely to be even greater during and after a shower than those reported in this study.

Across the nation, many consumer and environmental health organizations are joining CHEJ and other experts in calling for safeguards to prevent harm from exposure to PVC shower curtains.

Tune in tomorrow for Part 2 of this story. 

Photo by Stacey Vaeth

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