I don't know about you, but I grew up in a household where there was always a cone-shaped container filled with this strangely colorful and waxy-looking stuff inside that had a permanent position on top of the toilet bowl. Yes, this air freshener would sit there day and night filling the room with the unnatural scent of "a freshly picked bouquet of flowers" or perhaps some even more unnatural smell like, pine trees. As a kid I remember watching the waxy interior shrink with every passing day to only be replaced with a brand new scent when that air freshener had obviously worn out its welcome. Quite frankly, as a kid I did not think much about this air freshener beyond this, but for whatever reason I decided not to follow this same tradition into my adulthood -- I would much rather throw open the window and smell the genuine outdoors!
Anyway, I was reading a past issue of Prevention Magazine the other day when I came across Dr. Weil's regular feature. Someone had written to him asking the question about the safety of these air fresheners. While I do not use them in my household, I know a lot of people that do (including my parents) and if you ever turn on the television you will soon discover that the air freshener industry is huge -- clearly, playing on consumer's paranoia about having a "smelly house." Given this I thought it would be worth my while to share his feelings about air fresheners.
Are Air Fresheners Safe? Based on this article, they certainly do not appear to be. In fact, the information here was a bit alarming, especially if you have a household filled with children.
Increases Asthma Symptoms Recent studies have suggested that air fresheners raise the risk of several pulmonary diseases and that being exposed to the chemicals in air fresheners for as little as once a week may increase chances of the development or worsening of asthma symptoms by 71%.
Potential Link To Cancer A study out of the University of California, Berkeley, revealed that some air fresheners when used in a small, poorly ventilated room (possibly like a bathroom?) released pollutants that create unsafe levels of formaldehyde, which is a carcinogen that has been shown to "cause cancer in animals and respiratory irritation in humans."
Health Concerns So Great Government Regulation Has Been Requested After the NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) independently tested fourteen common air fresheners, some which were advertised as "unscented" or "all-natural," they became so alarmed by their findings that they filed a petition along with several other environmental groups demanding that air fresheners be thoroughly tested and regulated by our government to ensure a higher degree of consumer safety. In this study while none of the air fresheners listed phthalates in the ingredients, 12 of the 14 air freshener products tested by the NRDC did contain them. Phthalates are chemicals that are believed to affect fertility, cause cancer, birth defects and may cause developmental abnormalities in babies.
As I always say, it is better to err on the side of safety, especially with respect to our developing children. In my humble opinion we would all be better off and probably a lot safer if we simply threw open our windows or filled our house with pleasant smelling real flowers or potted plants.
Click on the link above to read more about NRDC testing. You can also click here for a summary of reports produced by the NRDC regarding air fresheners.