Ladies, if you’re currently flooding your bathroom each morning because you decided to toss your shower curtain due to some hysterical article you read (and sadly, believed) about shower curtains making people fat, stop what you’re doing. Save your floor grout and reattach that shower curtain. Your shower curtain is guilty of no such sin!

Jeffrey Kabat, a cancer epidemiologist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and author of a great book on health alarmism called Hyping Health Risks: Environmental Hazards in Daily Life and the Science of Epidemiology (which I’m reading now and highly recommend), explains the latest alarmist nonsense in his Forbes column:

Several days ago an article titled “Is Your Shower Curtain Making You Fat?” appeared in the magazine Spry and was then reprinted in the Dodge City Daily Globe.  The article drew readers’ attention to the dangers of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), giving 5 examples of chemicals used in everyday consumer products (BPA, phthalates, PVC, PFC’s, and PBDFs).

With a quote from a professor of pharmacology and references to a couple of crude, published studies, the author, Catherine Winters, conveyed the message to her readers that they are surrounded by products containing EDCs that can play havoc with hormonal signaling and induce disease.  The shower curtain reference was based on a study that found that shower curtains containing PVC, or polyvinyl chloride, “release up to 108 volatile organic compounds (VOC), some of which could be detected in the air 28 days after the curtain had been hung.”

Nowhere in the article is there any mention of the kind of exposure to the chemicals required to cause the adverse health effects mentioned.  You would think that she is talking about occupational exposure where one is breathing in dust and fumes from these chemicals 40 hours a week, week-in and week-out.  In fact, exposures encountered in daily life are likely to be trivial to non-existent.

Shower curtains are just the latest common, everyday item to come under the paranoid eye of the chemphobes (who can forget the claims last year that shampoo and other personal care products were making you fat! Wouldn’t it be great if you could just stop moisturizing and washing your hair and continue eating pizza and milkshakes for dinner?).

Anti Chemical groups with innocuous sounding names like the Safer Chemicals, Healthier Families Coalition, millionaire Hollywood activists like Jessica Alba, and woefully misinformed mom bloggers like Paige Wolfe (I’m sorry I won’t provide a link to her mommy blog. If you’re interested, just Google “Food Babe wanabe”) employ the half-story strategy Kabat explains above—suggesting that the presence of a chemical in urine is a sign of danger while failing to mention the levels required to actually cause harm (remember, the dose makes the poison).

Some people just laugh at these stories and wonder why it’s even important to push back on these claims. And indeed, if this was just about shower curtains, I might not care so much. But this goes way beyond one’s choice to purchase a plastic or cotton shower curtain. One of the many problematic messages the “shower curtains [or hand lotion, or shampoo, or other everyday item you use that makes you smell good or your life easier] make you fat [or causes cancer or insert a number of other terrifying diseases]” claim pushes is that it isn’t your behaviors (lack of exercise, too much food, alcohol, sugary drinks, etc) or other factors (genetics, age, sex), it’s these everyday household products that are keeping your from reaching your bikini best or from being generally healthy.

In an age when we’re all looking for the magic diet pill or strategy to keep us healthier longer, some people will rid their houses of things like shower curtains and other common plastic items while continuing unhealthy behaviors. 

That's what's really troubling.