The Hazards of Chemical Fragrances [article and video]_Featured_, Toxicity Thursday, August 16th, 2012
Dr. Mercola Interviews Dr. Anne Steinemann About Fragranced Chemicals
Hazards are hiding in fragranced consumer products
By Dr. Anne Steinemann
(DavidSuzuki.org) They’re everywhere: air fresheners, scented soaps, hand sanitizers, laundry detergents, dryer sheets, and cleaning supplies. They emit numerous chemicals, including some classified as toxic or hazardous, and even some with no exposure level that is considered safe.
But you may not know about these hazards. Our laws do not require all ingredients in fragranced consumer products to be listed on labels or material safety data sheets (MSDS). If ingredients are disclosed, they are typically general or benign-sounding ones, such as “biodegradable surfactants” or “organic fragrance.” What’s more, a single “fragrance” in a product can be a mixture of several dozen to several hundred chemicals, most of them synthetic. Even products with claims of “green” or “organic” emit toxic and hazardous chemicals, often just as many as the standard brands.
This special issue of Doc’s Talk is in collaboration with the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics
These products can cause a range of adverse health effects, such as headaches, breathing difficulties, asthma attacks, rashes, and even loss of consciousness1. I wanted to find out what ingredients could be causing these effects. Together with colleagues, I analyzed 25 best-selling fragranced products — air fresheners, laundry products, cleaners, and personal care products — to find out what’s really in them. We used headspace analysis with gas chromatography/mass spectrometry to detect the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted from the products2.
The results were surprising: These 25 products emitted 133 different VOCs, with an average of 17 VOCs per product. Of these 133 VOCs, 24 are classified as toxic or hazardous under U.S. federal laws, and each product emitted between one and eight of these compounds.
In most cases, consumers would have no way of knowing about these chemical ingredients. Only one was listed on any product label, and only two were listed on any MSDS. Moreover, about half the products made some claim of being “green” (such as “organic,” “natural,” with “essential oils” or “organic perfume”), and they emitted just as many toxic and hazardous compounds, and probable carcinogens, as the standard products3 (Full results).
Why is this, given that we have dozens of environmental laws designed to protect and promote public health? Here’s why: No law in the U.S. or Canada requires manufacturers to disclose all ingredients in consumer products (such as air fresheners, laundry supplies, and cleaners), either on the label or the MSDS. For the subset of consumer products considered to be cosmetics (such as personal care products), manufacturers must list ingredients on the label, but they can include the general term “fragrance” or “parfum” rather than list the ingredients in the fragrance. More generally, no law requires the disclosure of any ingredients in a “fragrance” in any product4.
We found some other surprising results: Nearly half of the fragranced products emitted one or more carcinogenic “hazardous air pollutants” (1,4-dioxane, acetaldehyde, formaldehyde, and methylene chloride), which have no safe exposure level, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Further, even if a product doesn’t contain hazardous chemicals, it can generate them. For instance, the most common chemical emitted from these products was limonene, which reacts with ozone in surrounding air to create a range of potentially hazardous secondary pollutants, such as formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, and ultrafine particles5.
What can consumers do? They can use basic products to clean, such as baking soda and vinegar, and use products without any fragrance or scent. Consumers can also use direct approaches to improve indoor air quality, such as opening a window or turning on a fan, rather than using air fresheners or deodorizers (which do not clean the air, but only mask a problem and worsen air quality). It also helps to be skeptical when reading labels and MSDSs. They may list only some ingredients, if any. (Even products called “unscented” or “fragrance-free” can contain a fragrance, as well as a masking fragrance to cover the scent.) And don’t be misled by product claims of “green,” “organic,” or “natural fragrance.” Those terms are not regulated or defined, and these products can emit toxic chemicals just like other brands.