The Sweet Scent of Phthalates
Our indoor air quality has been severely compromised by the onslaught of mass media advertising to “cleanse the air,” “reduce airborne bacteria,” “eliminate smoke and odors,” “trap particles such as dust, pollen and smoke” and to “reduce pet odors” with the latest greatest air freshener. According to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), recent independent testing of 14 different air fresheners showed 12 out of 14 contained phthalates (pronounced THAL-ates), a hazardous hormone-disrupting chemical. Phthalates are commonly used to dissolve and carry fragrances, to soften plastics and as sealants and adhesives. This very potent chemical, at high exposures, has been associated with cancer, developmental and sex-hormone abnormalities (decreased testosterone and sperm levels and malformed sex organs) in infants, infertility, allergic symptoms and asthma. Once phthalates are in the air, dispensed through air fresheners, they can be inhaled or absorbed through our skin. Once in the bloodstream, they can wreak havoc on our health.
According to the NRDC, phthalates pose the greatest risk over long-term repeated exposure. This doesn’t seem too difficult to accomplish with the advent of plug-in fragrance-infused gel cartridges, candles and even flameless candles that according to manufacturer Glade “continuously fragrances, all day, every day.” You can’t even visit a public bathroom without an automatic air freshener “cleansing” the air every fifteen minutes.
An estimated 75% of households use air fresheners, making an even stronger case against the EPA for not regulating air fresheners. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also has no regulations against the use of phthalates. Manufacturers are not required to indicate that their products contain phthalates. Again, the U.S. lags behind other countries in consumer safety issues. The European Union, plus 14 other countries, banned two types of phthalates in cosmetics and completely banned the chemical in children’s toys. Wait – we have California. Thank you governor Schwarzenegger for signing the first state bill to ban phthalates in toys made for children under three years of age. It’s a step in the right direction but clearly we need more transparency so consumers can make informed purchases. We also need more stringent guidelines in product formulation and manufacturing so we can prevent these chemicals from even entering the environment.
No amount of “Tropical Moments” or “Garden Bliss” is going to entice me into polluting my home with potentially cancer-causing substances. We actually gave up indoor air fresheners several years ago and opted for essential oil mists or the good old-fashioned technique of just opening a window. Cleaning more often works wonders too. Just like in the pharmaceutical world, it is never a good idea to hide the symptoms and not treat the underlying cause.
Try some of the following more natural ways to freshen your air:
- essential oils diffused through a cold-air diffuser
- essential oils mixed with spring water in an amber glass mister
- beeswax candles from The Global Exchange
- Just’a Drop toilet bowl odor neutralizer (thanks to the Green Promise reader who submitted this tip)