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Protection of Families against Indoor Air Pollution Sought

Written By David D'Angelo on Friday, June 20, 2008 | 6/20/2008

Manila Bulletin, 16 June 2008

Health and environmental advocates expressed concern over the presence of more than 100 chemicals that are released into the air from certain types of shower curtains commonly used in homes, gyms, hospitals, hotels and resorts.

Members of the waste and pollution watchdog EcoWaste Coalition, in a briefing held to launch the new report "Volatile Vinyl: The New Shower Curtain's Chemical Smell,” revealed that shower curtains made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) contain many harmful chemicals. Published by the US-based Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ), the report was based on tests conducted on PVC shower curtains bought from popular US retail shops and used as laboratory samples.

The PVC shower curtains tested positive for chemicals, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs), phthalates and organotins, which are known to cause developmental damage as well as damage to the liver and central nervous, respiratory, and reproductive systems. Some of these chemicals can cause cancer in animals, while some are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans. These chemicals make up that "new shower curtain smell" or that strong chemical odor unique to PVC shower curtains.

"The CHEJ report provides laboratory evidence of toxic air contamination from PVC shower curtains," Sonia Mendoza of the EcoWaste Coalition and Mother Earth Foundation said, adding that "the report should stir thehealth, environmental and trade departments as well as the House of Representatives and the Senate to regulate consumer products that contribute to indoor air pollution and cause harm to health and the environment."

Indoor air pollution, the EcoWaste Coalition stressed, is a public health concern that requires preventive and precautionary actions to protect Filipino families, especially the children, from toxic pollutants. The World Health Organization, US Environmental Protection Authority, American Lung Association and numerous other public health and environmental agencies and organizations consider indoor air pollution as a major risk to human health.

Dr. David O. Carpenter of the Institute for Health and the Environment, University at Albany, State University of New York, explained that "the brain is a major target for VOCs, causing everything from headache and loss of concentration to learning disabilities in children whose mothers were exposed before their birth, as shown in a recent Canadian study. Since there are safe alternatives to vinyl shower curtains, such exposures should always be avoided."

The report on the PVC shower curtain’s chemical smell, the EcoWaste Coalition said, should push the National Solid Waste Management Commission, Department of Trade and Industry and other agencies to enforce the phase out of non-environmentally acceptable products and packaging materials in the market as directed by Republic Act 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act.

The "Volatile Vinyl" report recommends steps that the governments, manufacturers, retailers and consumers can do to safeguard public health and the environment such as by implementing an immediate phase-out of PVC in shower curtains, recalling PVC shower curtains from store shelves, labeling of material content of shower curtains, rejecting products that are not properly labeled, and choosing PVC-free alternatives.

The “Volatile Vinyl” report, co-authored by Stephen Lester, Michael Schade and Caitlin Weigand of CHEJ, was released globally on 12 June 2008 in 17 states in the U.S. and in Bulgaria, Canada, India, Lebanon, Philippines, South Africa and United Kingdom.

Its launch in the Philippines was initiated by the Task Force Plastics of the EcoWaste Coalition, which includes the Earth U.S.T., Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Greenpeace Southeast Asia, Health Care Without Harm, Kaalagad Katipunang Kristiyano and the Mother Earth Foundation.

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