Air Fresheners Leave Your Indoor Air Anything But
There’s always been a something a little unsettling about the idea of revitalizing the air inside our homes by spraying things with names like Meadow Mist and Mountain Breeze all over the place, especially when such products hardly smell like either.
Now two new studies have found that our suspicions were correct: synthetic air fresheners are coating our homes and filling our air with unsafe chemicals.
Used in 75% of American households, air fresheners are a huge industry that generates sales of $1.72 billion a year. Found in everything from plug-in disposable appliances and fake candles to sprays and peel-and-stick evaporative disks, these products don’t actually eliminate odors but merely use one of several strategies to make you think they’ve vanished.
Some products simply cover up bad smells with stronger chemicals. Some use a nerve-deadening agent to reduce your ability to smell in the first place; while others coat the inside of your nasal passages with a film that stops smells from getting through.
Now a new study from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) finds they’re doing something else as well: polluting our indoor air whenever we use them.
The NRDC tested 14 different air fresheners, including those labeled ‘all-natural’, and found that all but two contained measurable levels of phthalates, synthetic chemicals linked to asthma, endocrine disruption, and other serious health problems.
(For more about phthalates see the February 2006 issue of the Non-Toxic Times at http://www.seventhgeneration.com/making_difference/newsletter_article.php?article=110&issue=25.)
The amounts of phthalates found ranged from 0.12 parts per million (ppm) to an extraordinary 7,300 ppm. Only two of the tested products contained no phthalates at all.
Researchers said that though the number of products tested was small and couldn’t be said to form a representative sampling, the study’s results clearly indicate the need for more comprehensive testing of these common consumer products, especially in light of the fact that the federal government neither tests air fresheners nor requires their manufacturers to list product ingredients or adhere to any specific safety standards.
In response to the study, Walgreens stores, whose private label air fresheners contained the highest levels of phthalates reported by the study, removed the offending products from their shelves in a commendable example of a company taking swift action to right a toxicological wrong.
Hot on the heels of that decision came news of a study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, which found that the use of spray cleaners in general greatly increases the risk of contracting asthma. Researchers in Barcelona, Spain found that test subjects who used spray cleaners at least once a week had a 30-50% greater chance of developing this respiratory disease and concluded that as many as one in seven cases of adult asthma could be blamed on exposure to spray cleaners. The study singled out conventional glass cleaners, furniture sprays, and air fresheners as particularly likely to trigger the ailment.
Clearly, conventional air fresheners have no place in a healthy home. In addition to phthalates, air freshener toxins can include naphthalene, phenol, cresol, dichlorobenzene, and xylene among many others. These chemicals have been implicated in cancer, neurological damage, reproductive and developmental disorders and other conditions.
For these reasons, indoor air quality experts recommend against using air fresheners or room deodorizes of any kind. Instead, try these safe methods to freshen the air in your home:
Locate sources of odors and eliminate them when and wherever possible. Since many odors are the result of microbial action, spraying trouble spots and potentially problematic areas (like trash cans, compost containers, etc.) with an undiluted 3 percent solution of hydrogen peroxide (the concentration typically available in stores) will remove many odors.
Use natural minerals like baking soda and borax to control common odor sources and to deodorize when you clean.
Keep windows open as much as possible to let bad air out and good air in. If odors are still troubling, invest in an air purifier with activated carbon filtration, a strategy that can remove odors.
To scent indoor air, place a drop of a natural essential oil like lavender or mint on a cold light bulb, or add a dozen drops to a bowl of water placed on a radiator or wood stove. You can also boil fragrant dried herbs in a pot of water to release a fresh smell.
• A natural mineral called zeolite is available in packets that will absorb odors when hung in problem areas like musty basements and closets.
• Make your own sprays from essential oils and other natural ingredients. For recipes and more information, we recommend the book Better Basics for the Home, by Annie Berthold Bond.
To learn more about the NRDC study, visit http://www.nrdc.org/health/home/airfresheners/contents.asp. For more information about the research published by the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, please see http://ajrccm.atsjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/176/8/735.
The Non-Toxic Times Newsletter – Seventh Generation
Vol 8 No 12, October 2007
J Toxicol Sci, 40 (5), 535-50 2015
Characterization of Air Freshener Emission: The Potential Health Effects
Sanghwa Kim 1, Seong-Ho Hong, Choon-Keun Bong, Myung-Haing Cho
PMID: 26354370 DOI: 10.2131/jts.40.535
Air freshener could be one of the multiple sources that release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the indoor environment. The use of these products may be associated with an increase in the measured level of terpene, such as xylene and other volatile air freshener components, including aldehydes, and esters. Air freshener is usually used indoors, and thus some compounds emitted from air freshener may have potentially harmful health impacts, including sensory irritation, respiratory symptoms, and dysfunction of the lungs. The constituents of air fresheners can react with ozone to produce secondary pollutants such as formaldehyde, secondary organic aerosol (SOA), oxidative product, and ultrafine particles. These pollutants then adversely affect human health, in many ways such as damage to the central nervous system, alteration of hormone levels, etc. In particular, the ultrafine particles may induce severe adverse effects on diverse organs, including the pulmonary and cardiovascular systems. Although the indoor use of air freshener is increasing, deleterious effects do not manifest for many years, making it difficult to identify air freshener-associated symptoms. In addition, risk assessment recognizes the association between air fresheners and adverse health effects, but the distinct causal relationship remains unclear. In this review, the emitted components of air freshener, including benzene, phthalate, and limonene, were described. Moreover, we focused on the health effects of these chemicals and secondary pollutants formed by the reaction with ozone. In conclusion, scientific guidelines on emission and exposure as well as risk characterization of air freshener need to be established.
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