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Wednesday, April 17, 2024
The Observer

Student examines toxicity of shower curtains at Saint Mary’s

Saint Mary’s students may be regularly exposed to toxic chemicals, according to a research project by senior Malia Hosoi-Gallucci.

Shower curtains currently installed in Saint Mary’s dorms are made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which has been shown to give off a variety of volatile organic compounds and toxic chemicals.

Hosoi-Gallucci, a global studies major, conducted the project for an anthropology class titled “Water, Culture and Sustainability,” taught by assistant professor of global studies Laura Elder. After learning about the toxicity of PVC, Hosoi-Gallucci decided to research the situation at Saint Mary’s regarding the school’s use of PVC shower curtains.

She discovered PVC curtains were in wide use in the College’s dorms, despite the fact that vinyl chloride has been classified by the EPA as a Group A human carcinogen. However, the EPA — and all other federal agencies — does not have the authority to regulate the use of PVC plastics inside private homes.

Hosoi-Gallucci said she alerted the administration, which was unaware that the shower curtains contained PVC. Benjamin Bowman, director of Saint Mary’s facilities, said in an email statement that the College is now looking into new curtain options.

“At the last Going Green Committee meeting, Malia Hosoi-Gallucci shared her research on plastics and their impact on human health with the audience,” he said. “Members of the committee indicated that they should further explore alternative shower curtain options and my team has been working on this.

“At Saint Mary’s, we educate and empower our students to address problems, seek solutions and make a difference in their communities. We are proud of Malia putting her research to action, and as a College, we are committed to a safe, sustainable solution. Currently, we are working with our supplier to identify a sustainable and durable replacement curtain.”

A study by the Center for Health, Environment and Justice’s PVC Campaign showed that PVC curtains give off 10 different volatile organic compounds which, when inhaled, can cause health issues such as cataracts, nervous system depression, liver and kidney damage, narcotic effects, eye irritation, potential damage to fetuses and hematological disorders.

“[These plastics] are not good for showers — especially for people who like to take hot showers,” Hosoi-Gallucci said.

According to the EPA, inhalation of vinyl chloride fumes has been shown to increase the risks of a rare form of cancer, known as angiosarcoma. That “new car smell” people love is a result of these toxic fumes, Hosoi-Gallucci added.

“New car smell is actually really bad because it’s off-gassing really bad chemicals,” she said.

Notre Dame Building Services, when asked if the shower curtains at the University are the same as the curtains in use at Saint Mary’s, said in an email: “We’ve confirmed with Building Services that shower curtains used in the Notre Dame residence halls are made of 100 percent vinyl and do not include polyvinyl chloride (PVC) material.”

Hosoi-Gallucci said the safest alternative to PVC curtains is hemp curtains, because “hemp is mildew and bacteria resistant” and doesn’t off-gas toxic chemicals. However, hemp shower curtains are significantly more expensive than the PVC variants — around $70 each, Hosoi-Gallucci said — and the cost of replacing every shower curtain at Saint Mary’s could be substantial.

“[The administration] is definitely open to change. But again, the price is a factor, so they’re kind of like ‘maybe not,’” she said.

Hosoi-Gallucci said she hopes that through her efforts working with the administration on this issue, more students will become aware of the situation and push for a healthier change.