I won’t tolerate them for a minute when travelling in a friend’s car and have been known to refuse public taxis until one comes along that is air freshener free. I’m not allergic to them as some people are. I just know how harmful most of them are and choose not to sit in a confined space breathing in the vapours. If people knew what was in them, I think most would do so too.
The majority of air fresheners work by producing a chemical reaction in our nasal passages that trick us into thinking the smell is no longer there. It is. We just can’t smell it any more.
The way this effect is achieved, it amazes me that it’s even allowed. A study conducted by Anne Steinemann of the University of Washington in 2008 found that the most common household air fresheners (including the so-called ‘green’ ones or those with ‘essential oils’) emit substances that have no safe exposure level according to federal standards. They often contain chemicals such as formaldehyde, phthalates, toluene, styrene, acetone, acetaldehyde, 1,4-dichlorobenzene and chloromethane. All of these are hazardous to health in some way. Some are known carcinogens. What the heck are they thinking putting these ingredients into scented products designed to be inhaled?
Another University of Washington study in 2009 (Steinemann & Caress) found that 20% of the general population and 34% of people suffering from asthma get headaches or experience breathing difficulties when exposed to air fresheners. There have been many other studies done that show air fresheners are far from safe. Yet still they continue to be sold by the truckload. Global retail sales are expected to top $7 billion in the USA this year. It’s big business, and the latest fad is scented incense sticks that are not designed to be burned but simply to sit in a pot in the corner of a room creating toxic, sweet smelling odours. Even very pure essential oils can be a problem, because of the way they chemically change when heated.
And don’t get me started on scented candles. There are many health hazards with these too, even with the essential oil type. The idea of using air fresheners or scented candles to improve the quality of a space is fundamentally flawed.
Air Fresheners and Health Don’t Mix by Julie Braden
Copyright © Karen Kingston, 2010