Commonly used fragranced products emit a wide variety of chemicals into the air, some of which are federally regulated as toxic or hazardous substances, according to a study conducted by researcher Anne C. Steinemann of the University of Washington-Seattle and published in the journal Environmental Impact Assessment Review.
"I didn't find a brand that didn't emit at least one toxic chemical," Steinemann said.
Steinemann became concerned about the contents of fragranced products after receiving more than 200 complaints from consumers about side effects.
"I actually witnessed someone having a seizure when exposed to an air freshener," she said.
Steinemann put six different fragranced products - dryer sheets, a fabric softener, a laundry detergent, and three different air fresheners (one solid, one spray and one oil) - into an isolated, room-temperature enclosure and used gas chromatography and mass spectrometry to identify any volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that they emitted. She found that together, the products emitted almost 100 different VOCs, every one at levels higher than 300 micrograms per cubic meter.
This concentration is considered high enough to pose a risk in the case of toxic substances.
Ten of the detected chemicals are federally regulated as toxic or hazardous, including three considered hazardous air pollutants (acetaldehyde, chloromethane, and 1,4 dioxane).
Steinemann noted that one of the air fresheners is used in commercial airline bathrooms and another is regularly used in schools and medical facilities. Yet federal law does not require manufacturers disclose any of the ingredients used to make fragrances, let alone other chemicals that might be emitted during use.
"If an ingredient is hazardous, they still don't need to list it," she said. "They can just put on a warning label [such as 'don't inhale']."
Steinemann recommended that consumers use unscented laundry products and avoid synthetic air fresheners.
"Use baking soda, open a window, cut open an orange, or use spearmint leaves," she advised.
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