toxic air fresheners?
rellim at tulane.edu
Mon May 10 17:03:05 EST 2004
From Nature Science Update, May 7
A potentially harmful smog can form inside homes through reactions
between air-fresheners and ozone, say researchers at the US
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The reactions generate
formaldehyde, classed as a probable carcinogen, and related compounds
that many experts believe are responsible for respiratory problems.
The researchers studied the reactions between ozone gas and fragrance
molecules such as pinene and limonene, which are emitted by
air-fresheners that plug into electrical outlets. Ozone, produced at
ground level when vehicle exhaust emissions react with sunlight, is a
common urban pollutant, and environmental bodies have set limits on
outdoor levels of it.
"If you open a window on a high-ozone day, you could trigger these
reactions," says Mark Mason, an environmental scientist at the EPA's
National Risk Management Research Laboratory, North Carolina. Mason led
the study, which is published in Environmental Science and Technology1.
Some people actually use ozone generators in their homes to remove
unwanted odours and 'clean' their air, which could create indoor ozone
levels that are much higher than those in the study. There is currently
no regulation of household ozone levels.
"If you are concerned about indoor air, you should not introduce any
extra chemical sources to your home, and that includes volatile organic
compounds and ozone," advises Frank Princiotta, director of the EPA's
Air Pollution Prevention and Control division.
"This EPA study is only preliminary because it is based on work in a
room-sized test chamber rather than a house," cautions Ken Giles,
public information officer at the US Consumer Product Safety
Commission, which regulates products such as air-fresheners.
"But we do not think that 'freshening' air is a good way to deal with
air pollution," he adds. It is better to prevent the smells you are
trying to disguise in the first place, rather than covering them up
with more chemicals, he argues.
Mason's team found that mixing ozone and air-freshening chemicals
generated particles of formaldehyde-related compounds at a
concentration of about 50 micrograms in each cubic metre of air. This
is close to the EPA's outdoor particle limit. But in comparison, a
noticeably smoky room will have more than 100 micrograms of particles
per cubic metre, says Ken Donaldson, a toxicologist at Edinburgh
"The study finds the same sort of exposure that you might get from
painting a room, but in the long term the effects may add up," says
Donaldson. "Basically, this is yet more particle exposure, which you do
Similar particles are belched out by vehicle exhausts and are known to
cause respiratory problems, says Donaldson. As a rough estimate, an
increase of ten micrograms of particles per cubic metre of air will
lead to a 1% increase in deaths from conditions such as asthma, he
"We now have reasons to be concerned, but we need specialist health
studies before we think about regulation," says Bill Nazaroff, an
environmental engineer at the University of California, Berkeley. "I
think it is a bad idea to have [ozone generators and air-fresheners] in
the same room, but I also think ozone air cleaners are a bad idea,
period," he says.
There are potential solutions to the problem, however. "Air-freshener
manufacturers could limit these reactions by changing their
formulations," suggests Mason. Nazaroff agrees: the room fragrances
could be concocted from less reactive chemicals, much as gasoline has
been reformulated to produce less smog, he says.
1. Liu, X., Mason, M., Krebs, K. & Sparks, L. . Environ. Sci. &
Technol., published online, doi:10.1021/es030544b , (2004)
Charles A. Miller III, Ph.D.
Environmental Health Sciences Department
Room 374 J.B. Johnston Bldg.
Tulane Univ. School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine
1430 Tulane Ave.
New Orleans, LA 70112
504-585-6942, rellim at tulane.edu
Web page: http://home.bellsouth.net/p/PWP-chuckmiller
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