Scented consumer products shown to emit many unlisted chemicals

A study led by the University of Washington has found that many fragranced products, including ‘green’ or ‘natural’ products, contain toxic or hazardous chemicals.

Researchers in a study led by the University of Washington, placed a sample of each product, which included air fresheners, laundry detergents, personal care products and cleaning products, in a closed glass container at room temperature and then analysed the air for volatile organic compounds.

Lead author Anne Steinemann, a UW professor of civil and environmental engineering and of public affairs said, “Surprisingly, the green products’ emissions of hazardous chemicals were not significantly different from the other products.”

The most common emissions included limonene, alpha-pinene and beta-pinene, ethanol and acetone. All the products tested emitted at least one hazardous or toxic chemical, and eleven of the 25 tested emitted at least one probably carcinogen, as certified by the US Environmental Protection Agency. However, because the formulations of the products are secret it was impossible to determine whether the toxic chemicals came from the product base, the fragrance or both.

Most worrying, virtually none of these chemicals were disclosed to the consumer, anywhere. Two national surveys published by Steinemann and a colleague have found that a fifth of the population report adverse effects from air fresheners, and among asthmatics such complaints are roughly twice as common.

Steinemann advises people who find they have problems with such products as laundry detergents or cleaning products to use vinegar or baking soda to clean, and to open windows when doing laundry or to opt for products with no fragrance.

University of Washington News

October 2010

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