Three environmental and health groups have sued the federal government in an attempt to force it to label air fresheners that use a potentially harmful substance.
Phthalates, which in laboratory animal tests damage the reproductive system and interrupt normal development by mimicking the body's hormones, were found in more than a dozen common household air fresheners that the Natural Resources Defense Council tested. The risk from low-dose exposure via air freshener isn't known. People are also exposed to phthalates from a variety of other sources, primarily plastics. The Sierra Club and the Alliance for Healthy Homes have joined the lawsuit.
Phthalates were only one class of potentially harmful chemicals identified in the air fresheners. Others have been linked to cancer and asthma.As with exposure to any harmful substance, any risk is generally most acute for fetuses, babies and children whose organs are still developing.
About three out of four households use air fresheners, and the $1.72 billion industry has grown 50% since 2003.
Currently, those many consumers would find it hard to avoid chemicals they deem risky because the government does not require ingredients to be listed on air fresheners. Even some brands marked "all natural" or "unscented" contain the synthetic chemical linked to endocrine disruption, according to the NRDC study.
Of 14 brands tested, only two, Febreze Air Effects and Renuzit Subtle Effects, contained no detectable levels of phthalates in the NRDC testing. The three with the highest level of phthalates were Walgreens Air Freshener, Walgreens Scented Bouquet, and Ozium Glycolized Air Sanitizer.
"Consumers deserve to know that the products they bring into their homes are safe for use. Picking an air freshener off the store shelf shouldnt be a guessing game.," said NRDC attorney Mae Wu. "If manufacturers refuse to be up front about the chemicals in their products and the potential health risks they cause, then it is the governments responsibility to demand that information for Americans. Its impossible for consumers to make informed choices to protect the health of their families when basic information is being withheld."
Read the NRDC study.
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