Hidden Hazards in Air Fresheners
NRDC testing finds hormone-altering chemicals in common air fresheners.
UPDATE 9.20.07: Walgreens announced that it will remove Walgreens brand air fresheners from stores and conduct independent testing. The company also plans to introduce phthalate-free air fresheners soon. NRDC praises Walgreens for its quick response. UPDATE 3.12.09: SC Johnson announced it will provide ingredient information for all of its air care and home cleaning products and phase out its remaining use of phthalates by 2012.
Over the past few years, air fresheners have become a staple in many American homes and offices, marketed with promises of a clean, healthy and sweet-smelling indoor atmosphere. The labels do not mention, however, that many of these products also release potentially hazardous chemicals.
A recent investigation of 14 common air fresheners by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) found hormone-disrupting chemicals known as phthalates in 12 products, including some fresheners marketed as "all-natural" and "unscented." None of the air fresheners listed phthalates on their labels.
Phthalates are known to interfere with hormone and testosterone production. Children and unborn babies are particularly vulnerable to the toxins. The State of California notes that five types of phthalates - including one detected in air fresheners - are "known to cause birth defects or reproductive harm." Still, phthalates are used in many common consumer products -- to soften plastics in children's toys, as sealants and adhesives in nail polish, and as solvents in perfumes and fragrances.
The air fresheners NRDC tested included aerosol sprays, liquids that emit a continuous scent, and a solid. From generic store brands to "100% Pure and Natural" blends to college dorm favorites like Ozium, the vast majority of air fresheners tested revealed at least trace amounts of toxic phthalates. Walgreens Scented Bouquet topped the charts with 7300 parts per million of the phthalate DEP. The only two products that tested entirely free of phthalates were Febreze Air Effects and Renuzit Subtle Effects, both sprays.
NRDC's testing was limited, but the results do suggest that more comprehensive, in-depth testing of air fresheners is warranted. Air fresheners are used indoors, heightening the threat of exposure to users and their families. They are ubiquitous outside the home, in office spaces, retail outlets and public restrooms. Air fresheners are not regulated by the federal government, and companies are not required to list ingredients on their labels. Consumers should be wary of all air fresheners, even those that claim to be "all-natural." NRDC and other groups are petitioning the EPA and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to do more comprehensive testing and to take action to protect the public from dangerous chemicals in air fresheners.
last revised 9/20/2007
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