Does the idea of pesticides, probable human carcinogens and hazardous air pollutants constantly vaporizing and dispersing in a cloud around you or your home seem appealing? I think not. Yet, many people are unintentionally emitting these and other toxic compounds from scented products on their hair, skin and clothing. Emissions from air “fresheners” and surfaces cleaned with scented products also contribute to this soup of unhealthy chemicals in the air.
In 2010, Dr. Anne Steinemann, along with her team of scientists from the US Environmental Protection Agency, University of Washington and Battelle Memorial Institute, investigated volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted by 25 fragranced consumer products (personal care, laundry, cleaning supplies and air fresheners). Over half the products tested were top sellers, all in common usage and in the top 5 for annual sales (Environmental Impact Assessment Review: Fragranced consumer products: Chemicals emitted, ingredients unlisted www.drsteinemann.com/Articles/Steinemann%20et%20al.%202010.pdf).
They identified 24 VOCs classified as toxic or hazardous compounds, some of which formed the most dominant emissions. 13 kinds of registered pesticides were noted with many products emitting more than one type of pesticide (Table 2, FIFRA: Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act – Registered Pesticide).
They also identified 4 probable human carcinogens with no safe exposure level. Examples of other toxic or hazardous VOCs they found include 8 hazardous air pollutants, 20 air contaminants and 2 priority pollutants under the Clean Water Act.
I doubt that anyone wants to breathe clouds of pesticides, probable human carcinogens or hazardous constituents in our public buildings, homes and streets (from dryer vents). If you want to use safe products though, be cautious. The supposed “greening” of mainstream products is deceptive. The labels of many of the products tested in this study used words like “organic,” “non-toxic,” “essential oils” or “natural” yet there was no statistically-significant difference found between these and the other products.
The non-profit Guide to Less Toxic Products http://lesstoxicguide.ca/, Skin Deep Cosmetics Database http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ and the Environmental Working Groups’ Guide to Healthy Cleaning (http://www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners) are excellent resources for identifying safer product lines.
Additional studies, article summaries and press releases may be viewed at http://drsteinemann.com/publications.html