Transcript: Air Freshener Safety Report

JULIE CHEN: When you use an air freshener, just how fresh is the air in your home?

You see lots of ads for them and get this, they're in about three-quarters of all American homes. But a new report says chemicals used in some air fresheners may be bad for you. Linda Greer is director of health programs for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which put out that report.
Good morning, Linda.

LINDA GREER (Supervised Air Freshener Report): Good morning.

CHEN: What chemical are we talking about and how might it be harmful?

Ms. GREER: We found a class of chemicals called phthalates in certain air fresheners and phthalates are an increasing concern to scientific researchers because they've been found over the past five years or so to disrupt our hormone system, to disrupt testosterone in particular. And during development, these disruptions can lead to subsequent problems in sperm and in sexual organ development and other hormonal problems. So researchers have become increasingly alarmed about the toxicity of this class.

CHEN: In your study, you tested 14 different air fresheners. Why is phthalates in some air fresheners and others because we just put up on the screen two that your report found safe and it doesn't have phthalates, Febreze Air Effects and Renuzit Subtle Effects.

GREER: Well, phthalates are put in products in order to carry fragrance and color. So you find it in a large number of consumer products. They're sort of like emulsifiers. And so it appears that some products--some product lines use phthalates for that purpose, and other product lines use other presumably safer chemicals for the same purpose.

CHEN: So if I buy something that says unscented or it's clear, am I safe?

GREER: You're not and that was a surprise in our findings. We thought that if it said unscented or if it said natural, we might be less likely to find the phthalates than we did. I do need to emphasize that our results were very preliminary and more comprehensive testing is required. As you can see, we tested only a small number of products and actually we did this in order to be able to be able to petition the government to more comprehensively test this entire product class.

CHEN: So are we only talking about sprays? Like if I buy one of those that you just stick on a wall or hang, those are OK?

GREER: No. We're talking about all of these fresheners because by definition, if you're smelling it, it's in the air and it's getting into your body.

CHEN: Hm.

GREER: And so these phthalates are likely carrying that scent into your body with you. So it's not so much, if it's a spray or another method, it's really just if you can smell it.

CHEN: Can I pick up a product and just look on the ingredients, and if it says phthalates, not buy it?

GREER: Well, that's actually one of the root causes of this problem and our concern. You know, we were concerned about these products, which, by the way, random testing has shown we have phthalates, all of us, in our bloodstream already, and the mystery has really been where is our exposure coming from? Where are we getting this exposure? And the government has not been looking at this. There is no cop on the beat here. And so we took an educated guess and thought, well, where would they possibly be coming from? And because we knew their role was to carry scent or color in products...

CHEN: Hm.

GREER: ...we took a guess at air fresheners.

CHEN: Yeah.

GREER: The first line of products we tested, and you know, bingo, we found them right away.

CHEN: Yeah. We'll see if the government does anything. Linda Greer, thank you.

GREER: Thank you very much.