Monday, October 16, 2006

If You Want Fresh Air, Open A Window

If you have the misfortune of watching commercials on TV these days, you've probably noticed an increase in the number, variety and sophistication of air fresheners being marketed. And some of you may have seen a recent article in the New York Times, Accessorizing the Air, by Penelope Green, about air fresheners and the "air-care" industry.

Scents are careering about my house like bumper cars, the cat has sneezed himself to sleep, but I’m still “layering,” as those in the growing $4.4 billion air-care industry like to say, trying to find my “signature scent” and setting out more delivery systems than the Defense Department: here a scent diffuser from Alora Ambiance (a ceramic jar filled with scented oil and wooden skewers), there a candle called Scene from Apothia that smells like pepper and pears — the flavor of “the urban moment” — and comes with a silicone sleeve wrapped around its glass container and a silver bead atop its wick.

You get the idea.

These days, when we want our house or office or store to smell better, instead of distributing flowers or a couple of bowls of potpourri, we invest in "scent systems" which spread nice smelling chemicals around the area, chemicals that my be nice for our noses, but not necessarily for our health.

Environmental health expert Albert Donnay wrote the following letter to the New York Times which they declined to publish. Happily, we at Confined Space recognize important information when we see it:
Penelope Green's article on "Accessorizing the Air" (10/12/06, NYT House and Home section, page D1) with scented candles, rocks, sticks, spritzers and other types of so-called "air fresheners" should have been titled "Polluting the Air--and Our Bodies."

Not mentioned in the article is the fact that these products all release toxic volatile organic chemicals. We only smell these chemicals when they enter our nose, and even then only until olfactory adaptation sets in. But as long as we are exposed, we continue to inhale and absorb them into our bloodstream. These chemicals also can be absorbed directly into the skin, eyes, and--via the nose--even the brain.

Among the hundreds of unregulated ingredients used in fragranced products, researchers have identified chemicals that are listed by the US EPA as hazardous, neurotoxic, carcinogenic, and teratogenic. Fragrance products designed to burn such as candles and incense also release hazardous particulate matter and carbon monoxide.

The long-term effects of inhaling these pollutants are unknown, but it is clear that even exposures of a few seconds can provoke serious respiratory and neurological symptoms in people with hypersensitivity disorders such as asthma, migraine and multiple chemical sensitivity. Most at risk are infants due to their smaller lungs and still developing nervous systems.

Unfortunately even without the use of "air fresheners," the air inside most American homes is usually much more polluted than the air outside.

If you want fresh air, open a window!

Albert Donnay, MHS
Donnay Environmental Health Engineering
You've been warned.