December 11, 2008
“Are Air Freshener Ingredients Safe?” Groups Ask
Washington, DC Under pressure from a coalition of environment and health groups, air freshener manufacturers have disclosed their products’ ingredients to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). While they applaud the disclosure and today dropped the related legal challenge against the EPA, the organizations will now pressure the Agency to evaluate the safety of the ingredients individually and in combination with each other.
“For the first time, EPA now knows the main chemical ingredients in air fresheners, the function of each ingredient, and the amount of each chemical released in 2007 into our homes, schools, and offices,” said Jessica Frohman, co-chair of the Sierra Club’s National Toxics Committee. “Now the agency must take the next steps assess the risks posed by these chemicals and take appropriate regulatory action.”
The Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Alliance for Healthy Homes (AFHH) petitioned EPA in September 2007 to learn the risks of air fresheners and to require that manufacturers list ingredients on labels. In December 2007, EPA denied the petition but sent letters to the top seven air freshener manufacturers asking them to voluntarily submit the ingredients in their products and the quantities used annually. The seven companies whose product information was requested are Blythe, Dial, Lancaster Colony, Procter & Gamble, Redkitt Benckiser, S.C. Johnson and Shell.
“We know very little about the health effects of the combined chemicals within air freshener products,” said Ralph Scott of the AFHH. “Now that EPA has preliminary information about these products, we will continue to pressure the agency to learn more about these chemicals and regulate them as necessary to protect public health.”
This $1.7 billion industry produces products which serve no public health value and are often used to mask serious problems such as poor ventilation, sewer problems, mold growth, and cockroaches.
“As a pediatrician, I need to know what is in air fresheners to help families keep their homes healthy,” said Dr. Megan Sandel, an Environmental Health Pediatrician at Boston Medical Center. “Without it, I can't provide good care."
Because air freshener manufacturers purchase the specific fragrance they put in their products from specialty fragrance manufacturers, they claim that they do not know the specific chemicals which make up the scent. Fragrance manufacturing companies aggressively guard the secrecy of their formulas. But pressure from the EPA, because of advocacy organizations, led the Fragrance Materials Association of the United States (FMA) to submit its ingredients to regulators in October 2008.
EPA now has both fragrance and non-fragrance ingredient data for ingredients present in 0.1% concentration or greater in air freshener products made by the seven companies. Still, the organizations will continue to request that all ingredients be disclosed to the agency, including preservatives, dyes, and ingredients found in concentrations under the 0.1% bar.
“As more of the public shows signs of becoming increasingly sensitive to chemicals, we have a right-to-know what is in these products and the health effects of them,” said Frohman. “The public version of the list has major holes in it because the industry claims that the aggregated information is confidential, so we will use the Freedom of Information Act to challenge the industry’s claims of confidentiality.”