Health effects from scented consumer products

Fragrances from consumer products are a common source of indoor air pollutants. In the last several years, there has been quite a lot of research done on these pollutants and their health effects. Some representative papers and their highlights are listed below:

Steinemann, A. (2015) “Volatile emissions from common consumer products.” Air Quality, Atmosphere & Health 8: 273. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11869-015-0327-6

Consumer products emit a range of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can affect air quality and health. Risk reduction is hindered because of lack of information about specific product emissions. This study investigates and compares VOCs emitted from 37 common products (air fresheners, laundry products, cleaners, and personal care products), including those with certifications and claims of green and organic. It extends a prior study of 25 consumer products by adding 12 more products, including fragrance-free versions of fragranced products, representing the first such comparison in the scientific literature. This study found 156 different VOCs emitted from the 37 products, with an average of 15 VOCs per product. Of these 156 VOCs, 42 VOCs are classified as toxic or hazardous under US federal laws, and each product emitted at least one of these chemicals. Emissions of carcinogenic hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) from green fragranced products were not significantly different from regular fragranced products. The most common chemicals in fragranced products were terpenes, which were not in fragrance-free versions. Of the volatile ingredients emitted, fewer than 3 % were disclosed on any product label or material safety data sheet (MSDS). Because health effects depend on many factors, not only individual ingredients, this study makes no claims regarding possible risks. However, knowledge of product composition can be an important step to understand, assess, and reduce potential exposures and effects.

Steinemann, A. (2016). “Fragranced consumer products: exposures and effects from emissions.” Air Quality, Atmosphere & Health 9: 861. (Open access) https://doi.org/10.1007/s11869-016-0442-z

Fragranced consumer products, such as cleaning supplies, air fresheners, and personal care products, are a primary source of indoor air pollutants and personal exposure. Previous research indicates that fragranced products can trigger adverse health effects, with implications for workplaces and public places. This is the first study to examine the multiple dimensions of exposures related to fragranced products and effects in the US population. The study investigated the prevalence and types of fragranced product exposures, associated health effects, awareness of product emissions, and preferences for fragrance-free policies and environments. Data were collected using an online survey with a nationally representative population (n = 1136) of adults in the USA. Overall, 34.7 % of the population reported health problems, such as migraine headaches and respiratory difficulties, when exposed to fragranced products. Further, 15.1 % have lost workdays or a job due to fragranced product exposure in the workplace. Also, 20.2 % would enter a business but then leave as quickly as possible if they smell air fresheners or some fragranced product. Over 50 % of the population would prefer that workplaces, health care facilities and professionals, hotels, and airplanes were fragrance-free. While prior research found that common fragranced products, even those called green and organic, emitted hazardous air pollutants, more than two thirds of the population were not aware of this, and over 60 % would not continue to use a fragranced product if they knew it emitted such pollutants. Results from this study provide strong evidence that fragranced products can trigger adverse health effects in the general population. The study also indicates that reducing exposure to fragranced products, such as through fragrance-free policies, can provide cost-effective and relatively simple ways to reduce risks and improve air quality and health.

Steinemann, A. (2016). “Ten questions concerning air fresheners and indoor built environments.” Building and Environment 111, 279-284. (Open access) https://doi.org/10.1016/j.buildenv.2016.11.009

Air fresheners are pervasive within indoor built environments, such as workplaces, schools, housing, transportation, hotels, hospitals, care facilities, and a range of private and public buildings. Air fresheners are designed to impart an aroma to the air environment or to mask odors, with the intent of creating a pleasing indoor space. However, despite the intent, air fresheners can emit and generate a range of potentially hazardous air pollutants that can impair air quality. Even so-called green and organic air fresheners can emit hazardous air pollutants. Air freshener ingredients are largely unknown and undisclosed, owing to regulatory protections on consumer product ingredients and on fragrance formulations. In studies, fewer than ten percent of all volatile ingredients are typically disclosed on air freshener labels or material safety data sheets. From an indoor air quality perspective, air fresheners have been indicated as a primary source of volatile organic compounds within buildings. From a health perspective, air fresheners have been associated with adverse effects, such as migraine headaches, asthma attacks, mucosal symptoms, infant illness, and breathing difficulties. This article investigates the seeming paradox that products designed to improve the indoor environment can pose unintended and unknown risks. It examines the science, health, and policy perspectives, and provides recommendations and research directions.

Wolkoff, P. and Nielsen, G.D. (2017). “Effects by inhalation of abundant fragrances in indoor air – An overview.” Environment International 101, 96-107. (Open access) https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envint.2017.01.013

Odorous compounds (odors) like fragrances may cause adverse health effects. To assess their importance by inhalation, we have reviewed how the four major abundant and common airborne fragrances (α-pinene (APN), limonene (LIM), linalool (LIL), and eugenol (EUG)) impact the perceived indoor air quality as odor annoyance, sensory irritation and sensitization in the airways. Breathing and cardiovascular effects, and work performance, and the impact in the airways of ozone-initiated gas- and particle phase reactions products have also been assessed.

Steinemann, A. (2017). “Health and societal effects from exposure to fragranced consumer products.” Preventive Medicine Reports 5, 45-47. (Open access) https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pmedr.2016.11.011

Fragranced consumer products—such as air fresheners, cleaning supplies, and personal care products— pervade society. This study investigated the occurrence and types of adverse effects associated with exposure to fragranced products in Australia, and opportunities for prevention. Data were collected in June 2016 using an on-line survey with a representative national sample (n = 1098). Overall, 33% of Australians report health problems, such as migraine headaches and asthma attacks, when exposed to fragranced products. Of these health effects, more than half (17.1%) could be considered disabling under the Australian Disability Discrimination Act. Additionally, 7.7% of Australians have lost workdays or a job due to illness from fragranced product exposure in the workplace, 16.4% reported health problems when exposed to air fresheners or deodorizers, 15.3% from being in a room after it was cleaned with scented products, and 16.7% would enter but then leave a business as quickly as possible due to fragranced products. About twice as many respondents would prefer that workplaces, health care facilities and professionals, hotels, and airplanes were fragrance-free rather than fragranced. While 73.7% were not aware that fragranced products, even ones called green and organic, emitted hazardous air pollutants, 56.3% would not continue to use a product if they knew it did. This is the first study in Australia to assess the extent of adverse effects associated with exposure to common fragranced products. It provides compelling evidence for the importance and value of reducing fragranced product exposure in order to reduce and prevent adverse health effects and costs.

 

Author: Laura B.

I'm the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center's Sustainability Information Curator, which is a fancy way of saying embedded librarian. I'm also Executive Director of the Great Lakes Regional Pollution Prevention Roundtable. When not writing for Environmental News Bits, I'm an avid reader. Visit Laura's Reads to see what I'm currently reading.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s