86 percent (12 of 14 top sellers) of air freshener products tested have harmful phthalates in them according to tests conducted by The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) an international non-profit environmental organization. Some of those tested were sold as “unscented” or “all-natural.” Phthalates are known to cause hormonal abnormalities, birth defects, and reproductive problems. Plus they may mash harmful odors in your home.
None of the products tested listed phthalates on their labels. The NRDC recommends that government regulators do more thorough tests on these products and enact basic measures to limit exposure to these chemicals.
Advises Cassandra Dass-Pearce of Green Clean Institute – Canada:
• Most phthalates are well known to interfere with production of the male hormone, testosterone, and have been associated with reproductive abnormalities.
• Numerous animal studies have linked prenatal exposure to certain phthalates with malformations of the genitalia, decreases in testosterone, and reduced sperm production.
• Studies in humans have shown that phthalates have been associated with changes in hormone levels, poor semen quality, and changes in genital development.
• Five phthalates -i ncluding one found in air freshener products - are listed by the State of California as chemicals “known to cause birth defects or reproductive harm.”
• Phthalate exposure indoors has also been associated with allergic symptoms and asthma. Because there are no labeling requirements, even so called “natural” products can contain toxic chemicals. It is virtually impossible for the average person to know which products may pose a potential health risk.
• Researchers have also detected other chemicals of concern to human health in these products as well. The European Consumers’ Organisation, BEUC (Bureau Europen des Consommateurs), commissioned a study in January 2005 to analyse the chemical substances present in indoor air following the use of air fresheners (including incense, natural products, scented candles, gels, aerosols, liquid and electric diffusers.
The BEUC study found volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in these products at high levels and concluded that VOCs significantly contributed to indoor air pollution.
In particular, the European study detected cancer-causing chemicals such as benzene and formaldehyde in some air fresheners. Benzene is known to cause leukemia in humans, and formaldehyde has been linked to cancers of the upper airways.
The majority of products also contained allergens (such as limonene). People with allergies to these chemicals could have adverse reactions, including rashes or even asthma attacks, from exposure to air freshener products.
When necessary, use products with the lowest levels of phthalates to limit exposure to these toxic chemicals, or use products that are certified by organizations such as Green Seal (USA) and EcoLogo (Canada) as being an environmentally responsible product. EcoLogo It is the only North American standard approved by the Global EcoLabeling Network as meeting the international ISO 14024 Standards for environmental labels.
For a simpler, safer solution to an odor in the air at your home, Celia Kuperszmid Lehrman suggests that you, "simmer a pot of water with a cinnamon stick or cloves tossed in."
While you're into discovering ways to reduce your exposure to harmful chemicals in your home here are nine more.