The dangers of indoor chemical pollution



As she often does every Tuesday, Elizabeth spends a good portion of the morning getting ready for her luncheon.  She meets with the ladies at


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Once distilled from flower essences,
the overwhelming majority of perfumes today are complex mixtures of synthetic chemicals.  Francesca Lyman, a MSNBC contributing editor, wrote in 'Scents and Sensitivities' that the American Academy of Dermatology that thousands of different fragrances are used in perfumes and skin products, in hundreds of chemical combinations.  [ 1 ]  Furthermore, Lyman continued, perfume companies aren't required to list their ingredients, but merely label them as containing "fragrance."

Andrea DesJardins, writing for 'Sweet Poison: What your Nose Can't Tell You About the Dangers of Perfume,' points out that advertisers and marketers are well aware of the powerful connection between scent and memory, as well as scent and emotion, and that they use this frequently in their promotions.

"The result is that fragrance is considered a 'normal' component of our everyday lives," DesJardins states. "Many consumer products contain fragrances. These products include personal products (i.e. perfumes/colognes, shampoos, conditioners, hairspray, shaving cream, make-up, baby care products, deodorants, soap, feminine products, etc.), and household products (i.e. cleaners, air fresheners, bleach, laundry detergent, fabric softeners, etc.)."  Furthermore, of the estimated 5,000 chemicals used in fragrance products, less than 20 percent have been tested and reported as toxic by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). [5]

In addition, Lyman writes, the approximately 95 percent of perfume ingredients that are synthesized from petrochemicals give off volatile organic compounds (VOC's).  According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), VOC's can make one nauseous, have been proven to irritate the eyes, nose and throat, contribute to headaches, and can be responsible for loss of coordination, damage the liver, kidney and central nervous system. [6]  Due to the overall average weakened immune system in Americans' health (mainly due to pollution, a diet of decreased nutrients, and food laced with chemical toxins), allergic reactions to users of fragrances are on the rise.  Donald Belsito, a dermatologist at the University of Kansas Medical Center, said that he has seen
an increase from 9 percent to 12 or 13 percent of dermatitis (inflammation of the skin) patients who used perfume over the last decade.  Additionally, the American Medical Association (AMA) has stated that perfumes can trigger migraines.  [7]

 ‘Let's face it, chemical science could undoubtedly get a can of turpentine to smell like jasmine.  If users of perfume knew what this particular jasmine contained, would they splash it on themselves?’

The Environmental Health Network, a California-based advocacy group, has petitioned the U.S. government that warning labels be required on synthetic fragrances that have not undergone adequate testing.  A laboratory that specializes in tests for the fragrance industry was commissioned by the group, and it found at least 41 fragrance ingredients they determined to be "toxic to the skin, respiratory tract, nervous and reproductive systems, [and in some cases] known to be carcinogens" (capable of causing cancer). [8]  

Those who are affected by perfumes, however, need not worry
about losing their jobs due to others wearing fragrances.  Thanks to the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1992, it is against the law for employers to discipline people who have been diagnosed with chemical sensitivities.  Julia Kendall, co-chair, Citizens for a Toxic-Free Marin, writes:

"The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1992 guarantees access to disabled to institutions, such as government agencies, libraries, doctor's offices, retail stores, and many others. Multiple Chemical Sensitivity/Environmental Illness is recognized as a disability by The Social Security Administration and HUD. Fragrances are a ‘barrier to access’ to MCS/EI disabled, since breathing is affected. Breathing is a ‘major life activity’ as defined by the ADA. Fragrance bans meet the ‘reasonable accommodation’ clause of the ADA, since elimination and substitution are not expensive."  [9]

No product is more needless and more overused
in our society than the many perfumes purchased daily.  It goes beyond reason that so many people have been hypnotically seduced into thinking that they aren't complete unless they spray and douse themselves with perfumes and colognes, but that many of their products need to be scented, including -- can you believe it? -- toilet paper!  Unfortunately, very few people who use perfume question the chemical ingredients in their fragrances, much less the health effects on themselves and others.  Let's face it, chemical science could undoubtedly get a can of turpentine to smell like jasmine.  If users of perfume knew what this particular jasmine contained, would they splash it on themselves?

Probably not.  Accordingly, the same caution should be used when patronizing the unregulated perfume merchants.  If you can't find a particular fragrance that doesn't contain chemicals, then simply go without; you're not going to shrivel up and die.  On the contrary, you'll be doing yourself and many others a big favor:.


1.  Ecomall, 'Sweet Poison: The Dangers of Perfume.'  Julia Kendall, co-chair, Citizens for a Toxic-Free Marin. "Health Risks of Twenty Most Common Chemicals Found in Thirty-One Fragrance Products."

2.  Kendall, ‘Sweet Poison: The Dangers of Perfume.’

3.  Kendall, ‘Sweet Poison: The Dangers of Perfume.’  

4.  Kendall, ‘Sweet Poison: The Dangers of Perfume.’

5.  MSNBC, July 2003, 'Scents and Sensitivities.  What to know before buying a loved one perfume.'  Francesca Lyman.

6.  'What Your Nose Can't Tell You About the Dangers of Perfume.'  Andrea DesJarins

7.  Lyman, 'Scents and Sensitivities.'

8.  ibid'

9.  Julia Kendall, "Making Sense of Scents," 'Sweet Poison'


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