How Bad Are Air Fresheners For the Environment?

Slate

It shouldn't be surprising that we're fans of making your own air freshener rather than buying one housed in plastic with an unlisted ingredients list. Most manufacturers of air fresheners don't disclose the chemicals or fragrances used in their products, so it's really anyone's guess what that little contraption might be puffing out every 15 minutes. Slate did a bit of investigating:In 1985 scientists confirmed the breakdown of ozone in the stratosphere due to the chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, found in aerosal sprays, so manufacturers began to look to other methods of dispersing fragrance, most of which eventually settled on an automatic delivery system which utilized heat (and therefore, energy) or fans to evaporate or disperse the fragrance. Even though most companies don't disclose their ingredients, independent researchers have conducted their own tests on a variety of household air fresheners and found they contained alarming rates of phthalates (as found by Gina Solomon, a physician with the Natural Resources Defense Council), VOCs, and the hazardous air pollutant acetaldehyde, a probable human carcinogen.

The latter was a study conducted by University of Washington researcher Anne Steinemann. In response to Ms. Steinemann's work, both the Fragrance Materials Association (FMA) and the Research Institute for Fragrance Materials (RIFM) released statements addressing the issues raised in the study. The FMA [PDF] wrote that Steinemann "claims that, simply because certain chemicals are present in the analyzed products they pose a health risk to all consumers. This is hardly sound science, but rather more like crystal ball gazing and cannot be compared to the sound, independent four-step safety testing process outlined above, which is carried out by the fragrance industry."

The RIFM [PDF] stated that "much is made of the fact that a couple of materials listed by EPA as Hazardous Air Pollutants [HAP] may be found in fragrances. This ignores the fact that HAP designation is based on an assessment of an ingredient’s propensity to pollute the open atmosphere; such pollution is based not only on simple presence but also on concentration, because many chemicals—including water—have no harmful effects at low concentrations, but may have adverse effects at high concentrations. In fact, many HAPs are natural constituents of ambient air. The point is that the concentration of products people might potentially be exposed to indoors is far less than that required to classify them as a hazardous air pollutant."

Whether it's hazardous or not, there are enough questions presented here that it seems fair to say that prolonged and frequent use of these products may pose a health problem. And personally, since they don't smell nearly as good as a homemade remedy anyway, we don't think it justifies the risk.

Read it: Smells Like Green Spirit at Slate

(Image: Fast Forward Weekly)

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