The smell of plastic shower curtains may be hazardous to your health, according to a new study.

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) shower curtains may release into the air 108 toxic chemicals, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs), phthalates and organotins, accounting for a smell that can cause adverse health problems affecting the lungs, central nervous system, liver and kidneys, suggests the study by the U.S.-based Centre for Health, Environment and Justice.

In laboratory animals, some phthalates, used to soften plastics, have been associated with liver abnormalities including tumours as well as fertility problems. Some may act as endocrine disruptors, according to the Canadian Cancer Society.

"Combined exposure to the multiple chemicals released from vinyl shower curtains is cause for concern, especially for children as they are more sensitive to toxic chemicals," Aaron Freeman, policy and campaigns director of the Toronto-based lobby group Environmental Defence, said in a release Thursday.

The study, titled Volatile Vinyl: The New Shower Curtain's Chemical Smell, examined shower curtains purchased in the U.S. from Bed Bath and Beyond, Kmart, Sears, Target and Wal-Mart stores — but most major Canadian retailers carry some variety of vinyl shower curtain.

A spokeswoman for Bed Bath and Beyond in Canada says the retailer is aware of the study's findings and is moving away from PVC curtains.

Environmental Defence and the Canadian Environmental Law Association released the study in Canada, and are calling on the federal government to ban PVC curtains and force manufacturers and retailers to instead sell cotton ones. 

The two groups also want  the government to:

  • Require manufacturers and retailers to switch to safer products.
  • Change product labelling.
  • Assist consumers to make safer choices.
  • Have the chemicals emitted from PVC in consumer products listed and regulate their usage.

The two groups also want provincial governments to take similar steps to protect Canadians.

In the interim, the two groups say, Canadians should avoid buying shower curtains, or other everyday products, made with PVC.

 

With files from the Canadian Press