From shower curtains to sippy cups, products made from polyvinyl chloride, also known as vinyl or PVC, are ubiquitous. Dubbed the "poison plastic," PVC poses great environmental and health hazards from manufacture to disposal. That new plastic shower curtain or new PVC toy smell? You've got a nose for the phthalates-a class of chemicals known to cause a host of reproductive and developmental defects-volatilizing from the PVC, which can migrate and leach into our air, water, and bodies.

For starters, cancer-causing dioxins, as well as other persistent pollutants, are spewed from factories wherever PVC is being manufactured, resulting in chronic and severe health problems such as cancer, neurological damage, endometriosis, neurological damage, and birth defects, as well as liver and kidney damage. Over the decades, dozens of vinyl fabricators have succumbed to the exceedingly rare angiosarcoma of the liver.The dioxin exposure of the average American far exceeds the usual standard for acceptable risk; dioxins also concentrate in breast milk, with babies now receiving high doses at orders of magnitude greater than those of the average adult.

A 1999 study by the National Institute of Public Health in Norway found that the risk of children developing bronchial obstruction-an asthma symptom-"increased in relation to the amount of plasticizer-emitting materials in the home." According to the authors, children exposed to PVC flooring and wall coverings in nurseries, bedrooms, and other rooms have an 89 percent higher risk of developing bronchial obstruction than kids who pitter-pattered in PVC-free homes.

And because PVC cannot be easily recycled, it's either landfilled, where it leaches chemicals or incinerated, releasing dioxin and heavy metals again.

Look for the recycling code #3 or V to spot PVC products before they enter your home. And remember that P-V-C is B-A-D.

Difficulty level: Easy to moderate