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Toxic fragrance in the air

Friday, August 22, 2008

Many fragrances contain volatile organic compounds.Many Enviroblog readers are familiar with the health concerns of undisclosed chemicals that hide under the pseudonym “fragrance” in everyday products—everything from cosmetics to cleaning supplies, not to mention laundry detergents and all those tree-shaped air fresheners. From asthma attacks to potential risk for hormonal disruption, we know that artificial perfumes are frequently nothing but a headache, quite literally so.

But isn’t it important to know what chemicals are sneaking into our homes unannounced? Up to now, all that consumers could do was wring their hands and studiously avoid anything with the word “fragrance” on the label, especially since FDA has not bothered to establish any laws governing the production of scented products. FDA does not even require a disclosure of chemicals included in fragrance additives.

Now, thanks to the work of a dedicated scientist at the University of Washington, Dr. Anne Steinemann, the facts are coming in.

An article now in press in the journal Environmental Impact Assessment Review analyzed chemicals that off-gassed from six consumer products: three different types of air fresheners, cloth drier sheets, fabric softener, and laundry detergent.

Among these scented products, 98 volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were identified, no doubt contributing to overall indoor levels of VOCs 2 to 5 times higher than outdoor levels. Five of the six products emitted one or more chemicals classified by the EPA as Hazardous Air Pollutants (acetaldehyde, chloromethane, and the carcinogen 1,4-dioxane).

What can individual people do to minimize their exposure to these toxic chemicals? As before, the best strategy is to avoid products containing fragrance. And, in a bigger picture perspective, we need to keep up the pressure on the government and on manufacturers to require complete disclosure of all chemical ingredients in consumer products, especially products that are daily used at home.

Photo by Zen.