Question

Do modern porcelain-finished tubs contain lead? Do fiberglass, acrylic, or "Vikrell" contain BPAs or phthalates?

Asked by Julie Bunn
Gambrills, MD

I am looking for the least toxic option for a new tub. I have read that porcelain tubs can contain lead. Is this true for modern tubs, manufactured since the late 1970's when the ban on lead paint went into effect? On the other hand, do the fiberglass, acrylic, and "other" material tubs, like Sterling's Vikrell, contain endocrine disruptors, like BPAs? I am not only talking about the material from which the tub is made, but any gel-coat or other material put on the surface to make it shiny. I have not been able to find the answer to this question elsewhere on the internet.

Answer

Molly McCabe, AKBD, CGP, CAPS

Answered by Molly McCabe, AKBD, CGP, CAPS

Bainbridge Island, WA

A Kitchen That Works LLC

March 11, 2013

Dear Julie,

I am not surprised you had difficulty finding answers to your questions. Most
manufacturers are quite proprietary about their manufacturing processes and more specifically finishing processes.

Cast iron, fiberglass, acrylic, Vikrell

Cast iron tubs with enamel finishes are unlikely to contain lead unless they are old, were re-finished prior to the lead paint ban or are manufactured in China. (Not all Chinese made tubs have lead in them but you should be cautious).

I am not a chemist but I do know that fiberglass, acrylic, or "Vikrell", are made from a variety of components including poly resins and plasticizers which contain phthalic acid or phthalic esters which phthalates are derived from as well as BPAs. The US is following the lead of Europe and Canada and phthalates are being phased out of use in consumer products while BPAs have been banned outright from specific consumer products with likely more to come.

Risk of leaching

It is difficult to say if there is any potential leaching risk from these materials which can be directly linked to health risks with bathtub use.

From a purely structural standpoint, the gelcoat surface of tubs and shower surrounds are highly non-porous (acrylic more so than fiberglass or Vikrell) which should effectively seal in the chemicals of concern. 

  • That said, improper use or maintenance of the tub or shower surround along with prolonged exposure to the sun can degrade the surface layer the tub/shower potentially releasing the phthalates or BPAs.
  • With respect to the gelcoat itself, this material is designed to be UV resistant and is relatively inert once cured so again leaching should be minimal but the fact is that it too is made from epoxy or polyester resin which may contain phthalates or BPAs.

Making a decision

In conclusion, it is difficult to say definitively that any one material is safer than another

  • I can say that acrylic is more durable than fiberglass or Vikrell and that enamel is more durable than acrylic.
  • There are many factors that go into a product decision selection. 
  • Heath risks appear to be your primary criteria.

When making a product decision, also consider the cost, the manufacturing process (does it release pollutants into the atmosphere), the lifecycle of a product as well as its carbon footprint.

Good luck!

 

For more information:

Read "Are there non- or less-toxic bathtubs?" a Q&A answered by Karen Smuland.

Do you have a question about greening your home? GreenHomeGuide invites you to Ask A Pro. Let our network of experienced green building professionals – architects, designers, contractors, electricians, energy experts, landscapers, tile & stone specialists, and more – help you find the right solution.