By Pat Anson, Editor
One in three Americans suffers adverse health effects – such as migraines and asthma attacks – when exposed to air fresheners, cleaning supplies, perfume and other scented consumer products, according to a new study.
Researchers at the University of Melbourne polled over 1,100 Americans in an online survey and found that nearly all were exposed to fragranced products at least once a week at home, work, or in public places such as stores or hospitals.
Almost 35% reported adverse health effects such as breathing difficulties, migraine headaches, asthma attacks, skin rashes, dizziness, nausea, and other medical problems. For half of these individuals, the problems are so severe they are potentially disabling, as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
"This is a huge problem; it's an epidemic," said Professor Anne Steinemann of the University of Melbourne School of Engineering, who is an expert on the health effects of environmental pollutants.
"Basically, if it contained a fragrance, it posed problems for people."
The study found that fragranced products may affect the bottom lines of many businesses. Over 20 percent of respondents said if they entered a store or business and smelled an air freshener or some fragranced product, they would leave as quickly as possible. And more than twice as many customers would choose hotels and airplanes without fragranced air than with fragranced air.
In the workplace, over 15% of respondents said they became sick, lost workdays or even lost a job due to exposure to fragranced products. Over half said they would prefer fragrance-free workplaces and health care facilities.
Even hygiene is impacted by fragrances. Nearly one in five said they are unable or reluctant to use toilets in public places because of the presence of an air freshener, deodorizer or scented product. And 14 percent said they would be reluctant to wash their hands in a public restroom because the soap might be scented.
“Adverse effects resulting from exposure to fragranced products, such as in workplaces and public places, raise concerns about liability,” said Steinemann. “For instance, individuals can suffer acute health effects, such as an asthma attack, if they enter a restroom that uses air fresheners. If they are unable to access a restroom due to the presence of an air freshener, then that poses a potential violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.”
Two out of three survey respondents were not aware that fragranced products often emit hazardous air pollutants such as formaldehyde, and 72% were not aware that even so-called natural, green, and organic fragranced products emit hazardous air pollutants.
“Fragranced product manufacturers are not required to disclose all ingredients in their formulations. This lack of disclosure can impede efforts to understand and reduce adverse effects associated with potentially harmful compounds,” Steinemann wrote. “Further, we lack knowledge on which specific chemicals or mixtures of chemicals are associated with the adverse effects, and this is an important area for research.”
The study findings are published in the journal Air Quality, Atmosphere & Health.