Environmental groups petition U.S. to regulate air fresheners
Jane Kay, San Francisco Chronicle Environment Writer
A group of heavyweight environmental organizations is asking the
federal government to crack down on air fresheners, products that
scientific studies show can aggravate asthma and pose other health
In response to the groups' petition filed Wednesday with the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency and the Consumer Product Safety
Commission, Walgreen Co. quickly pulled three of its air fresheners off
the shelves of its 5,850 stores nationwide.
The Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Alliance for
Healthy Homes and the National Center for Healthy Housing filed the
petition asking the agencies to more strictly regulate the industry,
which is expected to have $1.72 billion in sales this year.
Scented sprays, gels and plug-in fresheners offer no public health
benefits yet contain harmful chemicals linked to breathing
difficulties, developmental problems in babies and cancer in laboratory
animals, according to the petition sent to the two federal agencies.
The environmental groups commissioned independent lab tests of some
popular brands and also cited health studies that call into question
the safety of some chemicals found in the air fresheners.
In spite of Walgreens' move, representatives of some companies that
make air fresheners said their products pose no health risk and help
contribute to a better quality of life in many households.
Scott Wolfson, a spokesman for the Consumer Product Safety
Commission in Bethesda, Md., said his agency had received the petition.
"We take it seriously at this time," he said.
The environmental groups argue that in houses, offices and
restrooms, Americans suffer significant exposure "to a veritable
cocktail of dangerous and potentially dangerous volatile organic
compounds. In cases of mold and damp indoor environments, air
fresheners may hide an indicator of potentially serious health threats
to the respiratory system."
Consumers assume that products on the market have been evaluated and
are safe, the petition said. "Unfortunately, with regard to air
fresheners, these consumers are mistaken."
The groups want the federal government to require manufacturers such
as Procter & Gamble Co., S.C. Johnson, Dial Corp., Sara Lee Corp.
and Reckitt Benckiser Inc. to conduct health and safety tests,
including the respiratory effect of breathing the fresheners. Those
test results should be handed over to regulators, who should also be
alerted if there are reports of adverse reactions to the air
fresheners, the groups said.
The environmental groups also want truth-in-advertising labeling
that would require listing all ingredients in air fresheners. And the
government should ban ingredients that would cause allergies or appear
on California's Proposition 65 list of chemicals linked to cancer and
reproductive harm, according to the petition.
Bill Lafield, a spokesman for the industry group that represents
makers of products like household cleaners, disinfectants and air
fresheners, said the products are not dangerous. The Consumer Specialty
Products Association represents 260 businesses.
"We don't think that the products, when they're used properly, cause a risk to consumers," Lafield said.
Air fresheners "do contribute to the quality of life. Fragrances
have been used for centuries, dating back to when the Chinese and the
Egyptians used incense and fragrant oils. They obviously have a value,
or consumers wouldn't buy them," he said.
Lafield's trade group said in a statement Wednesday that the
products on the market undergo extensive testing to meet or exceed the
standards and regulations set by government agencies.
The federal consumer agency's general counsel will determine whether
the petition should be referred to the staff for further research, and
the staff would recommend to the commission whether the petition should
be accepted or denied, Wolfson said. He couldn't project a timeline.
Dale Kemery, an EPA spokesman, said the agency hadn't yet received
the petition. The EPA is expected to publish the parts of the petition
that relate to its agency, and under the federal Toxic Substances
Control Act, the EPA has 90 days in which to accept or reject the
If the agencies reject the groups' petition, the groups could sue.
Last year the Sierra Club sued the EPA after the rejection of a
petition and ultimately won an agreement from the EPA to require
importers of most children's products to tell the agency if there is
lead in the products. That petition also resulted last December in the
Consumer Product Safety Commission agreeing to develop a rule that
would ban dangerous lead in children's metal jewelry.
Air fresheners can waft chemicals into rooms where they are inhaled
by humans and pets. The exposure can be significant, particularly for
asthmatics, the petition said. A 2004 study published in the journal
Occupational Environmental Medicine found that about 29 percent of
people with asthma said air fresheners caused breathing difficulties.
The air fresheners can contain a number of harmful chemicals,
including benzene and formaldehyde, which are produced as byproducts in
the manufacturing process, according to the petition. Also found in air
fresheners are phthalates, a group of chemicals that are restricted
under San Francisco law in toys and child care products for children 3
and under. The state Legislature passed a measure two weeks ago banning
six forms of phthalates from children's toys. The bill awaits signature
or veto by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Phthalates soften polyvinyl chloride products such as toys,
raincoats, shower curtains and medical tubing, and are found in
upholstery, detergents and cosmetics as well as air fresheners.
Lab animal studies show that some phthalates interfere with hormonal
systems, disrupt testosterone production and cause malformation of sex
organs. Some studies of humans have shown a link between exposure and
adverse changes in the genitals of baby boys.
The Natural Resource Defense Council sent 14 air fresheners to be
tested for phthalates in an independent lab. The tests found that 12
products, including those marked "all natural," contained phthalates.
Gina Solomon, a physician and researcher at the Natural Resources
Defense Council, said her group focused its studies on phthalates but
is concerned about the lack of information and testing of all of the
chemicals in air fresheners.
The industry's trade group issued a statement Wednesday, criticizing the testing as "extremely limited."
However, a Walgreens spokeswoman said the tests prompted the company
to act. The drugstore company will conduct its own tests on the
products, she said.
"We have ordered our stores to remove those air fresheners mentioned
in the report from the shelves and quarantine them," spokeswoman Carol
Hiively said. "We will have them tested independently. One of our
manufacturers has informed us that before this study it was already in
the process of reformulating for a non-phthalate air freshener."
View the petition at: links.sfgate.com/ZWE
For information on the trade group Consumer Specialty Products Association:
Air fresheners shown to contain phthalates
Lab animal studies show some phthalates interfere with hormonal
systems, disrupt testosterone production and cause malformation of sex
organs. Researchers report a link between human exposure and adverse
changes to the genitals of baby boys. Tests have found varying levels
of the chemicals in several air fresheners.
Highest levels of phthalates:
Walgreens Air Freshener Spray (removed from shelves)
Walgreens Scented Bouquet Air Fresheners (removed from shelves)
Walgreens Solid Air Fresheners (removed from shelves)
Ozium Glycolized Air Sanitizer
Medium levels of phthalates:
Air Wick Scented Oil
Febreze NOTICEables Scented Oil
Glade Air Infusions
Glade PlugIn Scented Oil
Oust Air Sanitizer Spray
Low levels or no phthalates detected:
Febreze Air Effects Air Refresher
Lysol Brand II Disinfectantv
Oust Fan Liquid Refills
Renuzit Subtle Effects
Source: Natural Resources Defense Council
-- Keep draperies and carpets clean.
-- Open a window to air out a room.
-- Bake something. Nothing makes a home smell nicer than fresh cookies or bread.
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