Air Fresheners Pollute Homes with Dangerous Phthalates

Air fresheners, a product most Americans use at least once a day, often contain chemicals that can negatively affect hormones and reproductive development, especially in babies. Those conclusions come from research conducted by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which found that of 14 popular air fresheners, only two did not contain <"">toxic substances known as phthalates.

Air fresheners are big business in the US, where sales of these products rake in $1.72 billion every year. But surprisingly, air fresheners are not subject to any governmental testing, nor do any federal agencies require manufacturers to meet specific safety standards. As it stands right now, air fresheners can contain any amount of phthalates. These chemicals are known to disrupt hormones, and can be particularly dangerous for babies and young children. According to the NRDC, The State of California notes that five types of phthalates—including one that is found in air freshener products—are “known to cause birth defects or reproductive harm.” And recently, the European Union took steps to ban phthalates from toys made for small children.

To find out how widespread phthalate use might be in air fresheners, the NRDC tested several popular aerosols, solids and liquids. Of the 14 air fresheners tested by the NRDC, 12 tested positive for phthalates. The three with the highest level of phthalates were Walgreens Air Freshener, Walgreens Scented Bouquet, and Ozium Glycolized Air Sanitizer. Even products that were marketed as “all-natural” and “unscented” contained these dangerous chemicals. And the NRDC noted that there was no way for consumers to know if any of air fresheners it tested contained phthalates, as none had the chemicals listed among their ingredients or anywhere else on their labels. According to the NRDC, only two air fresheners, Febreze Air Effects and Renuzit Subtle Effects, contained no detectable levels of phthalates.

In a press release announcing the results of its testing, officials with the NRDC said that it is high time that the air freshener industry faces more regulation. “Manufacturers are getting away with marketing products as ‘natural’ when they’re not, and that’s because no one is stopping them,” said Mae Wu, an attorney in NRDC’s health program. “Our research suggests this could be a widespread problem in a booming industry that – so far – has been allowed to do what it wants.”

As a result of its research, the NRDC, along with with the Sierra Club, Alliance for Healthy Homes and the National Center for Healthy Housing, has petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency and the Consumer Product Safety Commission, calling on these agencies to asses the risk air fresheners pose to consumers by comprehensively testing all air freshener products on the market.

Already the NRDC study has had some impact, as Walgreens, which had three products in the study, removed them from the market and says it will soon have a phthalate-free version available.

But until changes come, there are some things consumers can do to limit exposure to phthalates in air fresheners. The first is to avoid such products entirely, and opt to open windows in order to access natural fresh air. Improving the ventilation of a home will go a long way to eliminating unwanted odors. Failing that, consumers should try to purchase air fresheners that contain the lowest possible levels of dangerous phthalates.

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