RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Most companies don't want you to know what's in their scented consumer products, and they do a good job at keeping that information a secret. That is, until Anne Steinemann starts snooping around. Steinemann, a PhD and professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Washington, might as well be dubbed the lead detective of the fragrance police, thanks to her efforts over the last few years in disclosing toxic chemicals in everything from laundry detergent and dryer sheets to shampoo and air fresheners. Her latest report finds that even household products that are marketed as natural or "green" in fact contain harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that have been linked to migraines, asthma attacks, seizures, and even loss of consciousness in the past. The report appears in the Environmental Impact Assessment Review.
THE DETAILS: In the study, Steinemann and colleagues studied the VOC emissions from 25 popular fragranced products, including detergent, dryer sheets, fabric softener, soaps, hand sanitizer, lotions, deodorant, shampoo, baby shampoo, cleaners, dish detergent, and air fresheners. "Of all the products tested, there's not a single one I think is safe," Steinemann says.
Specifically, researchers found that nearly half of the tested fragranced products emitted carcinogens. Of the 133 different chemicals detected, about 25 percent were classified as toxic or hazardous.
Citrus-scented limonene was the most common emission, and Steinemann contends that both the natural and lab versions of this chemical release VOCs. When limonene reacts with ozone in the air, it creates formaldehyde. Pine scents and acetone, a solvent found in nail polish remover, were also detected. "We don't know about intentionality, but we do know that they're in products," says Steinemann, noting that their presence could be a result of solvents or other petrochemical-based ingredients.
Steinemann says she doesn't disclose the names of the products she's tested because she doesn't want people to think that other brands she didn't test are safe. She would have released the names of the few bad actors, except that across the board, she found they all are emit seriously toxic compounds.