Scented consumer products shown to emit many unlisted chemicals

University of Washington

For Immediate Release

Oct. 26, 2010

The sweet smell of fresh laundry may contain a sour note. Widely used fragranced products – including those that claim to be “green” – give off many chemicals that are not listed on the label, including some that are classified as toxic.

A study led by the University of Washington discovered that 25 commonly used scented products emit an average of 17 chemicals each. Of the 133 different chemicals detected, nearly a quarter are classified as toxic or hazardous under at least one federal law. Only one emitted compound was listed on a product label, and only two were publicly disclosed anywhere. The article is published online today in the journal Environmental Impact Assessment Review.

“We analyzed best-selling products, and about half of them made some claim about being green, organic, or natural,” said lead author Anne Steinemann, a UW professor of civil and environmental engineering and of public affairs. “Surprisingly, the green products’ emissions of hazardous chemicals were not significantly different from the other products.”

More than a third of the products emitted at least one chemical classified as a probable carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and for which the EPA sets no safe exposure level.

Manufacturers are not required to disclose any ingredients in cleaning supplies, air fresheners or laundry products, all of which are regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Neither these nor personal care products, which are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, are required to list ingredients used in fragrances, even though a single “fragrance” in a product can be a mixture of up to several hundred ingredients, Steinemann said.

So Steinemann and colleagues have used chemical sleuthing to discover what is emitted by the scented products commonly used in homes, public spaces and workplaces. The study analyzed air fresheners including sprays, solids and oils; laundry products including detergents, fabric softeners and dryer sheets; personal care products such as soaps, hand sanitizers, lotions, deodorant and shampoos; and cleaning products including disinfectants, all-purpose sprays and dish detergent. All were widely used brands, with more than half being the top-selling product in its category.

Researchers placed a sample of each product in a closed glass container at room temperature and then analyzed the surrounding air for volatile organic compounds, small molecules that evaporate off a product’s surface. They detected chemical concentrations ranging from 100 micrograms per cubic meter (the minimum value reported) to more than 1.6 million micrograms per cubic meter.

The most common emissions included limonene, a compound with a citrus scent; alphapinene and beta-pinene, compounds with a pine scent; ethanol; and acetone, a solvent found in nail polish remover. All products emitted at least one chemical classified as toxic or hazardous.

Eleven products emitted at least one probable carcinogen according to the EPA. These included acetaldehyde, 1,4-dioxane, formaldehyde and methylene chloride. The only chemical listed on any product label was ethanol, and the only additional substance listed on a chemical safety report, known as a material safety data sheet, was 2-butoxyethanol.

“The products emitted more than 420 chemicals, collectively, but virtually none of them were disclosed to consumers, anywhere,” Steinemann said. Because product formulations are confidential, it was not possible to determine whether a chemical came from the product base, the fragrance added to the product, or both.

Tables included with the article list all chemicals emitted by each product and the associated concentrations, although do not disclose the products’ brand names. “We don’t want to give people the impression that if we reported on product ‘A’ and they buy product ‘B,’ that they’re safe,” Steinemann said. “We found potentially hazardous chemicals in all of the fragranced products we tested.”

The study establishes the presence of various chemicals but makes no claims about the possible health effects. Two national surveys published by Steinemann and a colleague in 2009 found that about 20 percent of the population reported adverse health effects from air fresheners, and about 10 percent complained of adverse effects from laundry products vented to the outdoors. Among asthmatics, such complaints were roughly twice as common.

The Household Product Labeling Act, currently being reviewed by the U.S. Senate, would require manufacturers to list ingredients in air fresheners, soaps, laundry supplies and other consumer products. Steinemann says she is interested in fragrance mixtures, which are included in the proposed labeling act, because of the potential for unwanted exposure, or what she calls “secondhand scents.”

As for what consumers who want to avoid such chemicals should do in the meantime, Steinemann suggests using simpler options such as cleaning with vinegar and baking soda, opening windows for ventilation, and using products without any fragrance.

“In the past two years, I’ve received more than 1,000 e-mails, messages, and telephone calls from people saying: ‘Thank you for doing this research, these products are making me sick, and now I can start to understand why,’” Steinemann said.

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Steinemann is currently a visiting professor in civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University. Co-authors are Ian MacGregor and Sydney Gordon at Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus, Ohio; Lisa Gallagher, Amy Davis and Daniel Ribeiro at the UW; and Lance Wallace, retired from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The research was partially funded by Seattle Public Utilities.

Reference:

University of Washington, Hannah Hickey, Release: Scented consumer products shown to emit many unlisted chemicals,Oct. 26, 2010

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President’s Cancer Panel report highlights threat from hormone-disrupting chemicals – many found in new fragrance study

San Francisco – A new analysis reveals that top-selling fragrance products – from Britney Spears Curious and Hannah Montana Secret Celebrity to Calvin Klein Eternity and Abercrombie & Fitch Fierce – contain a dozen or more secret chemicals not listed on labels, multiple chemicals that can trigger allergic reactions or disrupt hormones, and many substances that have not been assessed for safety by the cosmetics industry’s self-policing review panels.

The study of hidden toxic chemicals in perfumes comes on the heels of last week’s report by the President’s Cancer Panel, which sounded the alarm over the understudied and largely unregulated toxic chemicals used by millions of Americans in their daily lives. The President’s Cancer Panel report recommends that pregnant women and couples planning to become pregnant avoid exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals due to cancer concerns. Several fragrances analyzed for this study contained multiple chemicals with the potential to disrupt hormones.

“This monumental study reveals the hidden hazards of fragrances,” said Anne C. Steinemann, Ph.D., Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Professor of Public Affairs, University of Washington. “Secondhand scents are also a big concern. One person using a fragranced product can cause health problems for many others.”

For this study, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a national coalition of health and environmental groups, commissioned tests of 17 fragranced products at an independent laboratory. Campaign partner Environmental Working Group assessed data from the tests and the product labels. The analysis reveals that the 17 products contained, on average:

Fourteen secret chemicals not listed on labels due to a loophole in federal law that allows companies to claim fragrances as trade secrets. American Eagle Seventy Seven contained 24 hidden chemicals, the highest number of any product in the study.

Ten sensitizing chemicals associated with allergic reactions such as asthma, wheezing, headaches and contact dermatitis. Giorgio Armani Acqua Di Gio contained 19 different sensitizing chemicals, more than any other product in the study.

Four hormone-disrupting chemicals linked to a range of health effects including sperm damage, thyroid disruption and cancer. Halle by Halle Berry, Quicksilver and Glow by JLO each contained seven different chemicals with the potential to disrupt the hormone system.

The majority of chemicals found in the testing have never been assessed for safety by any publically accountable agency, or by the cosmetics industry’s self-policing review panels. Of the 91 ingredients identified in this study, only 19 have been reviewed by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR), and 27 have been assessed by the International Fragrance Association (IFRA) and the Research Institute for Fragrance Materials (RIFM), which develop voluntary standards for chemicals used in fragrance.

“Something doesn’t smell right—clearly the system is broken,” said Lisa Archer, national coordinator of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics at the Breast Cancer Fund. “We urgently need updated laws that require full disclosure of cosmetics ingredients so consumers can make informed choices about what they are being exposed to.”

“Fragrance chemicals are inhaled or absorbed through the skin, and many of them end up inside people’s bodies, including pregnant women and newborn babies,” said Jane Houlihan, senior vice president for research at Environmental Working Group.

A recent EWG study found synthetic musk chemicals Galaxolide and Tonalide in the umbilical cord blood of newborn infants. The musk chemicals were found in nearly every fragrance analyzed for this study. Twelve of the 17 products also contained diethyl phthalate (DEP), a chemical linked to sperm damage and behavioral problems that has been found in the bodies of nearly all Americans tested.

Members of Congress who are working to develop safe cosmetics legislation reacted to the report:

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill.: “There’s no reason that people should be exposed to potentially harmful chemicals because they use perfume, cologne or body spray. But this report suggests that is exactly what’s happening. The chemicals detected in popular fragrances, which are often endorsed by celebrities, could have a range of adverse health effects and Americans are being exposed unknowingly. I think this is a clear sign of how woefully out of date our cosmetics laws are and how urgently the cosmetics safety legislation we’re developing is needed. The ingredients used in these products need to be tested for safety and the FDA must be empowered to fully protect the health of Americans by blocking chemicals deemed unsafe. Americans need to know that the fragrance products they buy don’t contain chemicals that could harm them.”

Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass.: “A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but in some cases sweet smelling fragrances may in fact be dangerous. I am happy to be joining with my colleagues to soon introduce legislation that will make disclosure of ingredients used in cosmetics and fragrances mandatory and ensure that toxic chemicals are kept out of colognes and perfumes. Consumers have a right to know just what is in the products they spray and rub on their body every day.”

Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.: “It’s alarming that cosmetics products we use every day contain hidden toxic chemicals. That’s why I’m working with colleagues in Congress on legislation that will overhaul our outdated cosmetics oversight and regulation. We all deserve to know our products are as safe as possible.”

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Download the report: www.safecosmetics.org/notsosexy

Autor: Campain for Safe Cosmetics, Release: May 12th, 2010.