Lourdes Salvador's Column
...Co-founder of MCS America discusses the latest Multiple Chemical Sensitivity issues.
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Scented Products Shown to Contain Unlisted Chemicals
by Lourdes Salvador
Researchers at the University of Washington discovered 133 different chemicals in 25 commonly used scented consumer products. Into the air we breathe, each product emitted an average of 17 chemicals of which at least one was classified as hazardous.
More than 30 of the chemicals detected were classified as toxic or hazardous under federal law and only one was openly listed on the ingredient label. Over 40 contained a chemical classified as a probable carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, meaning it is believed to be linked to cancer.
The study was peer-reviewed and published in the journal Environmental Impact Assessment Review.
"We analyzed best-selling products, and about half of them made some claim about being green, organic, or natural," said lead author Anne Steinemann, a UW professor of civil and environmental engineering and of public affairs. "Surprisingly, the green products´ emissions of hazardous chemicals were not significantly different from the other products."
Steinemann explained that "manufacturers are not required to disclose any ingredients in cleaning supplies, air fresheners or laundry products, all of which are regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Neither these nor personal care products, which are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, are required to list ingredients used in fragrances, even though a single "fragrance" in a product can be a mixture of up to several hundred ingredients. Because product formulations are confidential, it was not possible to determine whether a chemical came from the product base, the fragrance added to the product, or both."
These products that Steinemann examined are commonly used in homes, public places, and workplaces. And, the products don´t just contain these chemicals; they emit them into the air that we breathe.
Products analyzed in the study included top-selling air fresheners, detergents, fabric softeners, dryer sheets, personal care products (soaps, hand sanitizers, lotions, deodorant and shampoos), and cleaning products (disinfectants, all-purpose sprays and dish detergent).
"We don´t want to give people the impression that if we reported on product ´A´ and they buy product ´B,´ that they´re safe," Steinemann said. "We found potentially hazardous chemicals in all of the fragranced products we tested."
The study gives support to the rising move towards fragrance free living. Last year the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention banned fragranced products and perfumes from their buildings, a move that affected more than 30,000 employees. Many hospitals, schools, and businesses are making the move toward fragrance bans too.
Fragrance is not a necessary ingredient for any of the products analyzed to serve their purpose.
According to the University of Washington, "Two national surveys published by Steinemann and a colleague in 2009 found that about 20 percent of the population reported adverse health effects from air fresheners, and about 10 percent complained of adverse effects from laundry products vented to the outdoors. Among asthmatics, such complaints were roughly twice as common."
An Act currently before the U.S. Senate, known as The Household Product Labeling Act, would require manufacturers to list ingredients in air fresheners, soaps, laundry suppliesm and other consumer products.
Steinemann termed the unwanted exposure to the unlisted chemicals in consumer products as "secondhand scents." Steinemann suggests using simpler options such as cleaning with vinegar and baking soda, opening windows for ventilation, and using products without any fragrance.
"In the past two years, I´ve received more than 1,000 e-mails, messages, and telephone calls from people saying: ´Thank you for doing this research, these products are making me sick, and now I can start to understand why,´" Steinemann said.
Steinemann is currently a visiting professor in civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University. Co-authors are Ian MacGregor and Sydney Gordon at Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus, Ohio; Lisa Gallagher, Amy Davis and Daniel Ribeiro at the UW; and Lance Wallace, retired from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The research was partially funded by Seattle Public Utilities.
For more articles on this topic, see: MCSA News.
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