Tag Archives: Polyvinyl chloride

“New Shower Curtain Smell”-Bad For Health

The polymerisation of vinyl chloride

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An environmental organization finds high concentrations of dangerous chemicals in shower curtains sold at major stores.

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Vinyl shower curtains sold at major retailers across the country emit toxic chemicals that have been linked to serious health problems, according to a report released Thursday by a national environmental organization.

The curtains contained high concentrations of chemicals that are linked to liver damage as well as damage to the central nervous, respiratory and reproductive systems, said researchers for the Virginia-based Center for Health, Environment & Justice.

* Chemicals in shower curtains

The organization commissioned the study about two years ago to determine what caused that “new shower curtain smell” familiar to many consumers.

“This smell can make you feel sick, give you a headache, make you feel nauseous or [cause] other health effects,” said Michael Schade, a coauthor of the report.

Researchers tested the chemical composition of five unopened polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, plastic shower curtains bought from Bed Bath & Beyond, Kmart, Sears, Target and Wal-Mart. One of the curtains was then tested to determine the chemicals it released into the air.

The study found that PVC shower curtains contained high concentrations of phthalates, which have been linked to reproductive effects, and varying concentrations of organotins, which are compounds based on tin and hydrocarbons. One of the curtains tested released measurable quantities of as many as 108 volatile organic compounds into the air, some of which persisted for nearly a month.

Seven of these chemicals — toluene, ethylbenzene, phenol, methyl isobutyl ketone, xylene, acetophenone and cumene — have been identified by the Environmental Protection Agency as hazardous air pollutants, said Stephen Lester, the center’s science director and a coauthor of the report.

Potential health effects include developmental damage and harm to the liver and the central nervous, respiratory and reproductive systems, according to the report.

Phthalates and organotins, which are not chemically bonded to the shower curtain, are often added to soften or otherwise enhance the curtain. These additives evaporate or cling to household dust more easily than the chemicals in the curtains themselves, Lester said. Volatile organic compounds also evaporate more easily than the less harmful chemicals, he said.

Vinyl chloride, which is a major building block of PVC, is a known human carcinogen that causes liver cancer, Lester said.

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

Representatives of Target and Sears Holding Co., the parent company of Kmart, said their companies were phasing out curtains that contain PVC. Target said about 90% of the store’s “owned brand” shower curtains offered this spring were made of materials other than PVC. Officials from the other companies were not immediately available for comment Thursday.

The report said that Bed Bath & Beyond had increased the number of PVC-free shower curtains it offered by selling those made of ethylene vinyl acetate and fabrics, but that Wal-Mart did not respond to the organization’s faxes or letters requesting the retailer’s PVC policy.

The American Chemistry Council issued a statement Thursday saying there was “no reliable evidence” that phthalates were harmful or linked to serious health problems, or that they were tied to the new shower curtain smell.

Argüello said studies were still being done on the effects of phthalates and other chemicals on people.

Little information on toxicity is available for 86 of the 108 chemicals detected in the curtains, Lester said.

The EPA has tested vinyl shower curtains and in 2002 said it had found that many of the same chemicals listed in the center’s report.

Lester said the test drew attention to the lack of government regulations or health-based guidelines governing indoor air pollutants.

“The EPA does not regulate indoor air, period,” said Barbara Spark, the indoor air program coordinator for the EPA’s Pacific Southwest region. “We have not been given that authority by the Congress.”

The Center for Health, Environment & Justice sent a letter to 19 major retailers Thursday informing them of the new report and encouraging them to stop selling PVC products.

“Most companies aren’t aware of some of the risks these products entail,” Lester said. “Once they’re informed of this, they’re in many cases ready to make changes and purchase alternative products.

Sources: Los Angles Times: June 13th. “08

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Plastic Recycling Symbols

The Daily Green offers this handy guide on the various types of plastic:

Number 1 Plastics — PET or PETE (polyethylene terephthalate)

* Found In: Soft drinks, water and beer bottles; mouthwash bottles; peanut butter containers; salad dressing and vegetable oil containers; ovenable food trays.
* Recycling: Pick up through most curbside recycling programs.
* Recycled Into: Polar fleece, fiber, tote bags, furniture, carpet, paneling, straps, (occasionally) new containers

It poses low risk of leaching breakdown products. Recycling rates remain relatively low (around 20 percent), though the material is in high demand by remanufacturers.

Number 2 Plastics

HDPE (high density polyethylene)

* Found In: Milk jugs, juice bottles; bleach, detergent and household cleaner bottles; shampoo bottles; some trash and shopping bags; motor oil bottles; butter and yogurt tubs; cereal box liners
* Recycling: Pick up through most curbside recycling programs, although some only allow those containers with necks.
* Recycled Into: Laundry detergent bottles, oil bottles, pens, recycling containers, floor tile, drainage pipe, lumber, benches, doghouses, picnic tables, fencing

HDPE carries low risk of leaching and is readily recyclable into many goods.

Number 3 Plastics –
– V (Vinyl) or PVC

* Found In: Window cleaner and detergent bottles, shampoo bottles, cooking oil bottles, clear food packaging, wire jacketing, medical equipment, siding, windows, piping
* Recycling: Rarely recycled; accepted by some plastic lumber makers.
* Recycled Into: Decks, paneling, mudflaps, roadway gutters, flooring, cables, speed bumps, mats

PVC contains chlorine, so its manufacture can release highly dangerous dioxins. If you must cook with PVC, don’t let the plastic touch food. Never burn PVC, because it releases toxins.

Number 4 Plastics
LDPE (low density polyethylene)

* Found In: Squeezable bottles; bread, frozen food, dry cleaning and shopping bags; tote bags; clothing; furniture; carpet
* Recycling: LDPE is not often recycled through curbside programs, but some communities will accept it. Plastic shopping bags can be returned to many stores for recycling.
* Recycled Into: Trash can liners and cans, compost bins, shipping envelopes, paneling, lumber, landscaping ties, floor tile

Historically, LDPE has not been accepted through most American curbside recycling programs, but more and more communities are starting to accept it.

Number 5 Plastics –
– PP (polypropylene)

* Found In: Some yogurt containers, syrup bottles, ketchup bottles, caps, straws, medicine bottles
* Recycling: Number 5 plastics can be recycled through some curbside programs.
* Recycled Into: Signal lights, battery cables, brooms, brushes, auto battery cases, ice scrapers, landscape borders, bicycle racks, rakes, bins, pallets, trays

Polypropylene has a high melting point, and so is often chosen for containers that must accept hot liquid. It is gradually becoming more accepted by recyclers.

Number 6 Plastics — PS (polystyrene)

* Found In: Disposable plates and cups, meat trays, egg cartons, carry-out containers, aspirin bottles, compact disc cases
* Recycling: Number 6 plastics can be recycled through some curbside programs.
* Recycled Into: Insulation, light switch plates, egg cartons, vents, rulers, foam packing, carry-out containers

Polystyrene can be made into rigid or foam products — in the latter case it is popularly known as the trademark Styrofoam. Evidence suggests polystyrene can leach potential toxins into foods. The material was long on environmentalists’ hit lists for dispersing widely across the landscape, and for being notoriously difficult to recycle.

Number 7 Plastics — Miscellaneous

* Found In: Three- and five-gallon water bottles, ‘bullet-proof’ materials, sunglasses, DVDs, iPod and computer cases, signs and displays, certain food containers, nylon
* Recycling: Number 7 plastics have traditionally not been recycled, though some curbside programs now take them.
* Recycled Into: Plastic lumber, custom-made products

A wide variety of plastic resins that don’t fit into the previous categories are lumped into number 7. A few are even made from plants (polyactide) and are compostable. Polycarbonate is number 7, and is the hard plastic that has parents worried these days, after studies have shown it can leach potential hormone disruptors.

Sources: The Daily Green March 31, 2008

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