Air Fresheners Unregulated, Potentially Dangerous, Group Says

Air Freshener
Certain air fresheners contain chemicals that may be harmful to human health.
Photo by Drew McLellan via Flickr

A study of 14 common household air fresheners has found that most of the surveyed products contain chemicals that can aggravate asthma and affect reproductive development, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “There are too many products on the shelves that we assume are safe, but have never even been tested,” said Dr. Gina Solomon, NRDC senior scientist. “The government should be keeping a watchful eye on these household items and the manufacturers who produce them.”

The study assessed scented sprays, gels, and plug-in air fresheners. Independent lab testing confirmed the presence of phthalates, or hormone-disrupting chemicals that may pose a particular health risk to babies and young children, in 12 of the 14 products—including those marked “all natural.” None of the products had these chemicals listed on their labels, according to the report. On September 19, NRDC, along with the Sierra Club, Alliance for Healthy Homes, and the National Center for Healthy Housing, filed a petition with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Consumer Product Safety Commission to report the findings.

In response to the petition, the U.S. drug store chain Walgreens pulled three of the assessed air fresheners from shelves in its 5,850 stores nationwide, and will conduct its own testing on the products to evaluate their safety, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Some 75 percent of U.S. households use air fresheners, according to NRDC. The industry is now worth $1.72 billion in the United States, a 50-percent increase over 2003.

The four environmental organizations want the U.S. government to enforce health and safety testing of the air fresheners, as well as to ban the use of any ingredients that cause allergies or that are listed on California’s “Proposition 65” list of chemicals linked to cancer and reproductive harm. They are also calling on the government to require manufacturers to list the full range of chemical ingredients on consumer labels. “More than anything, our research highlights cracks in our safety system,” Solomon noted.

Air freshening products typically only mask odors rather than removing them, and many operate by delivering chemically derived scents into the air that may be inhaled or absorbed through the skin, according to NRDC. “There are plenty of good alternatives,” Dr. Solomon said. “The best way to avoid the problem is to simply open a window instead of reaching for one of these cans.”

This story was produced by Eye on Earth, a joint project of the Worldwatch Institute and the blue moon fund. View the complete archive of Eye on Earth stories, or contact Staff Writer Alana Herro at aherro [AT] worldwatch [DOT] org with your questions, comments, and story ideas.