CANCER CAUSING AIR FRESHENERS
harmful smog can form inside homes through reactions between
air-fresheners and ozone, say researchers at the US
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The reactions generate
formaldehyde, classed as a probable carcinogen, and related
compounds that many experts believe are responsible for
studied the reactions between ozone gas and fragrance molecules
such as pinene and limonene, which are emitted by air-fresheners
that plug into electrical outlets. Ozone, produced at ground
level when vehicle exhaust emissions react with sunlight, is a
common urban pollutant, and environmental bodies have set limits
on outdoor levels of it.
"If you open
a window on a high-ozone day, you could trigger these
reactions," says Mark Mason, an environmental scientist at
the EPA's National Risk Management Research Laboratory, North
Carolina. Mason led the study, which is published in Environmental
Science and Technology1.
actually use ozone generators in their homes to remove unwanted
odors and 'clean' their air, which could create indoor ozone
levels that are much higher than those in the study. There is
currently no regulation of household ozone levels.
"If you are
concerned about indoor air, you should not introduce any extra
chemical sources to your home, and that includes volatile
organic compounds and ozone," advises Frank Princiotta,
director of the EPA's Air Pollution Prevention and Control
study is only preliminary because it is based on work in a
room-sized test chamber rather than a house," cautions Ken
Giles, public information officer at the US Consumer Product
Safety Commission, which regulates products such as
"But we do
not think that 'freshening' air is a good way to deal with air
pollution," he adds. It is better to prevent the smells you
are trying to disguise in the first place, rather than covering
them up with more chemicals, he argues.
found that mixing ozone and air-freshening chemicals generated
particles of formaldehyde-related compounds at a concentration
of about 50 micrograms in each cubic meter of air. This is close
to the EPA's outdoor particle limit. But in comparison, a
noticeably smoky room will have more than 100 micrograms of
particles per cubic meter, says Ken Donaldson, a toxicologist at
Edinburgh University, UK.
finds the same sort of exposure that you might get from painting
a room, but in the long term the effects may add up," says
Donaldson. "Basically, this is yet more particle exposure,
which you do not want."
are belched out by vehicle exhausts and are known to cause
respiratory problems, says Donaldson. As a rough estimate, an
increase of ten micrograms of particles per cubic meter of air
will lead to a 1% increase in deaths from conditions such as
asthma, he calculates.
"We now have
reasons to be concerned, but we need specialist health studies
before we think about regulation," says Bill Nazaroff, an
environmental engineer at the University of California,
Berkeley. "I think it is a bad idea to have [ozone
generators and air-fresheners] in the same room, but I also
think ozone air cleaners are a bad idea, period," he says.
potential solutions to the problem, however. "Air-freshener
manufacturers could limit these reactions by changing their
formulations," suggests Mason. Nazaroff agrees: the room
fragrances could be concocted from less reactive chemicals, much
as gasoline has been reformulated to produce less smog, he says.
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