ACAAI 2011: Air Fresheners Impact Respiratory Health

NOVEMBER 06, 2011
Beth Walsh
BOSTON—The growing market for home air fresheners is impacting respiratory health, according to Stanley Fineman, MD, MBA, president-elect of ACAAI, associate clinical professor department of pediatrics, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta Allergy & Allergy Clinic. Fineman spoke at the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology’s annual meeting this morning.
More than 75 percent of US households use air fresheners, he said. Rather than just improving the scent of their homes during the holiday season, Americans now expect their home to smell good year-round. Eighty percent of Americans purchased some type of air care product in the last year, Fineman said. In 2006, the US air freshener market was $979 million--an increase of 5.7 percent from 2005. Globally, the market for home air fresheners was $5.1 billion in 2007 and is forecast to grow by 3 percent annually. US candle sales were $2.2 billion in 2006 and are expected to grow 2 to 3 percent annually.
However, air fresheners contain ingredients such as formaldehyde; petroleum distillates, benzene, styrene; terpenes, such as limonene; aldehydes, ketones, esters, and alcohols; phosphates, bleach, and ammonia. Plug-in deodorizers were found to have more than 20 different volatile organic compounds (VOCs) with more than one-third of those VOCs classified as toxic or hazardous. Candles produce soot, lead, organic compounds, and VOCs. The toxicity characteristics of candle emissions match those of diesel emissions, and those emissions are often less than one micron in size, which allows for penetration into the lungs. The use of scented candles may contribute significant quantities of pollutants to the indoor environment, especially soot, benzene, and lead. 
A 2007 study found that 12 out of 14 air fresheners purchased from Walgreens had phthalates, which have been reported to cause hormone abnormalities, childhood developmental problems, and cancer. Shortly after the report was released, the store pulled the products from its shelves.
Not surprisingly, 20 percent of the general population and 34 percent of asthmatics reported health problems from air fresheners. Thirty percent of the general population and 38 percent of asthmatics reported problems when exposed to others’ scented products. More than half (58 percent) of people with chemical sensitivity report health problems from air fresheners, he said.
Patients will report allergy problems but most likely will test negative, Fineman said. “We can’t just tell our patients that they don’t have allergies.” Given the growing market for air fresheners and candles, he said allergists should learn what’s in these products and how they affect patients. “We can help our patients by asking about fragrance exposure. We can counsel patients about the problems of fragrances and recommend treatment strategies for patients with fragrance sensitivities.” 

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