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How Air Fresheners Are Killing You

by Sarah Cain

Most people go to extremes ensuring a clean environment for themselves and their families.  In this quest, people tend to misguidedly trust in chemistry and their local retailers to provide them with an arsenal of tools, which supposedly will make their environment more hygienic.  While practically all of the retail products are effective, few people ever consider all of the new-age chemicals that are left behind, or how dangerous they are.  A few of the brighter people eventually figure it out, but usually only after being diagnosed with a "genetic disorder".  Some people get the hint after delivering a baby without legs.  Somehow the phrase 'buyer beware' hardly does the situation justice.

Our gym installed plug-in air fresheners designed to spray a mist of "air freshening" chemicals periodically.  One of them was attached near the ceiling, on a wall that was directly behind all of the treadmills, to ensure that those under the most physical stress, and those breathing the heaviest, would find themselves inhaling a massive blast of chemicals.  Did we mention that these things impair lung function to cause extreme shortness of breath, and potentially heart attacks?  These things are exactly what need to be placed above treadmills.

We experienced immediate difficulty in breathing when running the treadmills, despite all of us being in excellent condition.  We later experienced chest pains and other symptoms of heart problems in unison.  We decided that this madness could not continue any longer.  This article is comprised of our research efforts in pinning down the problem.

Unfortunately, the residual chemicals from common cleaning and deoderizing products often results in the accidental poisonings to the very people who were supposedly being protected.  These poisons can accumulate over a period of years, so the true causes, and the true health effects are rarely discovered.  The victims might suffer from a strange form of cancer, or they might have some new-age "disease" like "Chronic Fatigue Syndrome", and of course, there is the ever-more-popular "genetic disorders" (wink), for whenever the doctors are really confused about what happened.  Genetic disorder, by the way, is the secret code for "we're clueless".  Whatever the blame is, it will never be chemicals, because the doctors work for the chemical industry.  Their white lab coats are not mere coincidence.

Do you wish to know why your immune system is weak, why you are always fatigued, and why you and your family have all those mystery illnesses and/or "genetic" disorders; despite your best efforts?  You will find the answers in your cleaning products, your medicine cabinet, your laundry products, your foods, your "treated" water, in "healthy" products like soy, canola, margarine, and in your air fresheners.  There is so much poison, and such little lifetime to absorb them all.  It is a miraculous wonder that the average American does not live in the hospital, but plenty do.

There is an endless barrage of toxic unregulated retail chemical products ranging from Clorox wipes, to hand sanitizers and air fresheners.  The long term health consequences of these products invariably become much worse than any infection (and this includes the so-called "Swine Flu").

It is generally assumed that these products must go through rigorous safety testing before placement on store shelves, but this is not true.  The cleaning industry is practically self-regulated, which translates to not regulated.  Chemical companies do not have to go to any authoritative body before releasing the latest air freshener or cleanup wipe.  In fact, it took months for the F.D.A. to recognize and warn a major hand sanitizer company that bacteria was living inside its product.  The hand sanitizer was eventually voluntarily recalled, but only after the situation became a public relations problem for both organizations.  In other words, it was recalled due to the bad press: not because it was making people sick.

Air fresheners are thought to be even further outside the jurisdiction of regulators.  To its credit, the State of California forces labeling of ingredients that are known to cause cancer and reproductive harm, under Proposition 65, but that is the entirety of this industry's regulations.  Do not be fooled into thinking that you are safe just because your product appeared on your retailer's shelf.  To the contrary, cleaning agents are increasingly shown in studies to cause serious health problems, and it is impossible to test for truly long term problems.  Additionally "all natural" means nothing when found on products and foods, because the phrase is completely undefined by regulators.  This means that producers are legally allowed to call anything "all natural", and they do.


"Despite the industry’s size, it is minimally regulated, not having to meet any standards specific to their products. Air fresheners are not tested for a variety of chemicals, including phthalates, because the government does not require it."

— National Resources Defense Council


1,4-Dichlorobenzene (1,4,-DCB) is a chemical which can be found in the blood of 96% of Americans.  It has been linked to lung damage, is a known carcinogen, and it is actually an EPA-registered pesticide.  Studies found it to increase rates of asthma.  It can be found in the majority of air fresheners, toilet deodorizers, and mothballs.  It works by attacking the receptors in the nose, and thus eliminates the sense of smell.  This is how the new generation of air "fresheners", such as Febreze, function.  They are literally products using chemical warfare to destroy their customer's sense of smell, and thereby, this is where the illusion of "freshness" comes from.  The user only smells an air freshener for the first minute, or so, after spraying these chemicals, and then the nose cannot smell anymore.  This is not a normal adjustment to odors.  These chemicals cause intentional damage to the nose, which is claimed to be temporary.  No long term studies have been done to test the effect to one's senses with chronic exposure.  What is important to remember is that anything inhaled is immediately absorbed into the blood through the lungs.  Of course, no tests have been conducted for cancers or organ failure with extended usage.

The issues of synthetic "fragrances" have been around for years, and has led to many companies selling 'unscented' options.  These fragrances cause changes in blood flow, blood pressure, mood, and trigger migraine headaches.  A massive 72% of asthmatics cite these fragrances as a trigger in causing asthma attacks, and they have been implicated as a cause for the initial development of asthma.  Asthma rates in the United States have doubled since 1980, and the use of air fresheners has doubled, since just 2003.  Most synthetic fragrances are also known 'respiratory irritants', which means that they cause inflammation in the lungs, leading to an increased mucous production, and a greater vulnerability to other chemicals, allergens, and viruses.  Ninety-five percent of synthetic fragrances are derived from petroleum.  They include benzene and aldehydes; which are known to cause cancers, reproductive effects, and problems with the central nervous system.  These effects on the nervous system result in increased cases of Alzheimer's Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson's Disease and more.  A study from 1991 entitled, Chemical Exposures: Low Levels and High Stakes, tested the effects of fragrances among test subjects.  When asthmatics were exposed to cologne for 10 minutes; their pulmonary functions dropped from 18% to a whopping 58%.  Of the 60 asthmatics that they surveyed, 57 complained of respiratory symptoms with exposure to common scents.

The Natural Resources Defense Council issued a press release about the presence of phthalates in air fresheners.  Phthalates are hormone disruptors which are known to cause birth defects, infertility and reduced sperm production.  Pregnant women and young children were described as being most at risk.  Phthalates are usually used in the production of P.V.C plastics.  All air fresheners containing phthalates lacked any labeling to indicate their presence.  Phthalates were also found in air fresheners that were labeled "unscented" and "all natural".  With an estimated 75% of consumers using air fresheners in their homes, the N.R.D.C. strongly recommended improving ventilation systems to dilute these chemicals as much as possible.  According to the Environmental Working Group, phthalates produce liver cancer, but of course, this link has not been 'officially confirmed'.  Notice that studies are not important until the right group in government says that they are, or the situation becomes a major public relations problem?  This is F.D.A. science in all its glory.

The chemicals which are emitted from air fresheners accumulate in the fatty tissues over time, so the dangers increase as they build up inside your body; and this also makes it more difficult to lose unwanted body fat.  Fat is always a self-defense mechanism, and a body will resist releasing the toxins stored inside fat, which means that a body tends to be very resistive toward eliminating fat.

If there are any remaining doubts about air fresheners being dangerous, consider the damage recently done to a car in Atlanta.  The air freshener was mistakenly placed upside down, so that it leaked its chemicals,  which then melted through the plastic automotive interior.  The company who made this "freshener" refused to tell FOX News which chemicals they were using, but it was noted that a poison control label was on the product.  Of course, poison control centers may not be able to help if the chemicals are not known.  The fact that a person is not orally consuming the product is no defense, because the fumes of these chemicals reach the blood through the lungs.


"I am shocked that an air freshener is out there and it can leak and cause that extensive damage to the vehicle and I worry about kids, children, dogs anybody in the car… because if it actually literally ate my dashboard. I can imagine what it does to your insides."

—  Pandie Napatilano, car owner


The E.P.A. may soon be enforcing its guidelines against air freshener companies for releasing excessive pollutants into the air.  A study at the University of California, Berkeley, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that air fresheners emitted controlled substances well above acceptable levels.


"Ethylene-based glycol ethers are common, water-soluble solvents used in a variety of cleaning agents, latex paints and other products. They are classified as hazardous air pollutants under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments and as toxic air contaminants by California's Air Resources Board."

— Science Daily


It was also found that new pollutants are created whenever these chemicals mix with ozone.  The ozone is created by the sparking of electric motors, which are found in an increasing number of household devices.  Contrary to popular belief, ozone in itself is not a pollutant, and life could not exist without it.  However, the chemicals that are being released, when combined with ozone, are very dangerous, especially in an indoor atmosphere.  When terpene-containing air fresheners were mixed with ozone, they were found to release smog, haze, and formaldehyde fumes.

Sooner or later, society will have to step back and revert to old-fashioned means of cleaning, cooking, and keeping their homes smelling good.  That will include the removal of non-stick pans, air fresheners, and hand sanitizers.  While they may make certain tasks easier, avoiding them is an essential step to ensure a long, healthy life, for your family.  Since children are most at risk, we can only hope that those reading this article will dispose of their air fresheners, to minimize the exposure of those who are not able to protect themselves.

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