Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The PVC-free shower curtain

Iris had informed me that the yellow rubber ducky shower curtain was too babyish.

I am attached to the rubber ducky shower curtain because her first word was "duck", which meant any bird in the generic sense. The first thing she called a duck was the rubber ducky in the bathtub and I bought her a clear plastic shower curtain printed with dozens of yellow rubber ducks to commemorate the event.

That shower curtain stank. It literally stank. It stank up not just the bathroom, but the entire house. I had to hang it outside on the clothesline for weeks until it had off-gassed sufficiently so that we could tolerate it inside the house.

No wonder that the big box housewares store where I purchased the shower curtain also stank. I got sick just going there to buy that shower curtain.

I wondered how the people could stand working in that environment all day. And what about the people who work in the plants that manufacture the PVC goods? What is the cumulative health effect of all that Poly-Vinyl Chloride?

I tend to hang on to my shower curtains for a very long time. First, I am a frugal green and don't replace things that work just fine. I don't have the time or inclination to use a hemp (or organic cotton!) shower curtain that needs to be washed regularly. I don't like the off-gassing that has accompanied every plastic shower curtain I had ever bought in the past.

Then, a friend mentioned at her baby shower that she loved yellow rubber duckies and was using them as a decorating theme. I immediately told Iris that we found a new home for her shower curtain and that we can go shopping for a new one.

She retorted that she didn't want to get a new one. She liked this one.

What changed?

It turned out that, when she found out someone else wanted the rubber ducky shower curtain, she immediately wanted to hold out for $$.

No, the completely off-gassed shower curtain was going to a new home and that's that. There was no way I was going to subject a newborn to the dangerous fumes that come off new shower curtains.

We went back to the big box store and discovered that the shower curtain area did not stink as much as it did 9 years ago. In fact, the whole store stank less overall. The chlorine chemical vapors were down, but the 'home scents' were still unbearable.

We discovered that, for a few dollars more, we could get "chlorine-free" shower curtains that didn't reek. We bought the most basic one for about $10. The PVC ones cost slightly less, but at what price to the environment? To the workers in the manufacturing plants* and in the big box store? Or the hassle to the consumer of hanging it outside for weeks while the curtain off-gasses?

The rubber ducky shower curtain has a new home. I also bought a wooden sculpture of a madonna and child from west Africa in the shape of an infinity symbol. (The new parents met as MIT freshmen and are both engineers.) Perhaps the new mommy will send me photos of her baby in tie-dye?

All this is a long preamble to a pitch that a PR agency sent me about PVC in toys. I get pitches from PR agencies representing all sorts of customers. It's interesting to see how astroturf works, but I rarely do anything about the pitches. I am simply too busy.

If you have time to kill, you can visit They even have a graphic of rubber duckies! I have no idea who is funding this effort. The wooden toy industry?

Oddly, there doesn't seem to be any concern for the workers that produce the stuff. The images and wording all talk about effects for the consumer and kids. Take a look at the first picture on the document, Our Health and PVC. PVC stinks. So does this kind of scaremongering**.

I have lots of thoughts about the overuse of plastics and plasticizers in the environment. But I have to go work now. If you have time to kill tonight, at 6:00 PST, you may want to contact to sign up for this web event. I have a time conflict so I am interested in what you learn, if you attend.
Join us on a call for parenting/health bloggers at 9pm EST this Wednesday, November 17th, with Lois Gibbs, to discuss why PVC toys sold at Toys ‘R’ Us are a problem for families and children across America.

Lois Gibbs is the Founder and Executive Director of the Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ), and is a recognized national environmental leader. Over 30 years ago after she discovered her children’s school was built on top of 20,000 tons of toxic waste, Gibbs led the fight to relocate 900 families from the contaminated neighborhood, Love Canal.
* You may want to read Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China by Leslie Chang. Most Americans are unaware that the girls (literally!) that produce plastic toys and housewares for us are locked into factories so that they do not run away. They are supposed to be allowed outside the locked gates 1-2 days a week, per their work contracts. In actuality, some factories never allow the girls outside at all because they would never come back to the horrific conditions once they have been inside. Not all manufacturers are bad. The book chronicles the journeys of a few girls as they navigate from the bad ones to the good ones. This eye-opening book and put a real damper on my enthusiasm for shopping.

** At least the picture shows a pregnant lady NOT wearing nail polish. I cringe when I see the ubiquity of nail polish in young girls and women. What good is it worrying about PVC in toys when you are exposing your children to phthalates, toluene and a whole chemical soup of dangerous chemicals in nail polish?

Plastics are truly a miracle. But we should use them sparingly and appropriately. Stop the recreational use of endocrine disrupters on your children today.

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