Thursday, July 22, 2010

Synthetic Air Fresheners' Toxic Taint

In winter, when homes are sealed to keep drafts out, make sure you're not breathing toxic chemicals! High on the list of indoor air pollutants are commercial air fresheners. A study published on July 10, 2010 in Environmental Health found that women who used more household cleaning products, including air fresheners and mold removers, had a 2x higher risk of breast cancer. Many aerosol refreshers are tainted with toxic phthalates, which have been linked to birth defects and reproductive harm. A 2007 Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) study found that the hormone-disrupting compounds in 12 out of 14 common air fresheners and none of these products listed phthalates on their labels. Many of these products were labeled “natural” or “unscented.” Febreze Air Effects Air Refresher, unlike thirteen others in NRDC's tests, was found to be free of toxic phthalates, which have been linked to birth defects and reproductive harm. In response to the tests, Walgreen’s pledged to remove all phthalates from its branded air fresheners. For the list of phthalate-tainted products, including Glade Air Infusions and both Febreze and Glade scented oils, go to Of course, there are many dozens more air fresheners on the market that haven’t been vetted for phthalates. What to do?
1. Look Before You Spray. Read labels. If you see the word “Fragrance,” it’s likely that the manufacturer is taking an advantage of an FDA labeling loophole that allows users of synthetic fragrance to avoid mentioning specific ingredients—including phthalates, used to disperse synthetic scents. Look instead for specific essential plant oils, preferably organic.
2. Do a Sniff Test. Before buying any fragranced product, natural or not, spray some from a tester to see whether it produces sneezes or itchy eyes. Strong fragrances, particularly citrus or pine, can provoke irritation and allergic/asthmatic reactions. And remember, when it comes to any perfume, a little goes a long way, so you needn’t overdo it.
3. For greener products, see Pass this info on to your odor-phobic college student, teen or preteen, mom, mother-in-law.
4. For greener cleaning brands, free of the most-toxic ingredients, click here. 5. Here are a "Choose It" list of safe d.i.y. cleaning ingredients, including plant essential oils for air freshening, and a "Lost It" list of ingredients to avoid.
• Baking Soda
• Borax
• Cornstarch
• Hydrogen peroxide
• Lemon juice
• Plant essential oils
• Table salt
• Vegetable oil
• Washing soda
• White vinegar

• Alkylphenol Ethoxylates (APEs)
• Ammonia
• Chlorine Bleach
• Fragrance (synthetic, likely contains phthalates)
• Glycol ethers
• Lye
• Nonylphenols (NPEs)
• Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)
• Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)
• Terpenes
• Triclosan (antibacterial)

Excerpted from my book, Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth Through Simple, Everyday Choices

For the dirt on glycol ethers in cleaing products, particularly when they react to other ingredients such as terpenes, click here.

Phthalates, suspect hormone disrupters that have been connected to reproductive system deformities in male infants and obesity in adults, have recently been linked to attention deficit disorders.

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1 comment:

M'lou Arnett said...

I've never liked the idea of "scented" air in my home and don't use candles, air fresheners, etc. Thanks for providing the details of why we should all think harder before we choose. Plus, eliminating the underlying cause of the stink is far more effective over the long run - - like brushing and flossing teeth to deal with bad breath. Great info Mindy. Thanks. M'lou Arnett