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Study Finds Fragrant Cleaning Products May Be Bad For Health

BOSTON (CBS) — There's no shortage of exotic scents today: dishwashing liquid that smells like green apples; air fresheners with the scent of French vanilla; and dryer sheers imbued with a hint of fresh linen.

You can even get household cleaners that are supposed to remind of you a Hawaiian aloha as you clean the toilet bowl.

We like things to smell fresh and clean, but is that always good for us? New research says it might not be. It can also be difficult to determine what makes many common household products smell the way they do.

WBZ-TV's Paula Ebben reports.

Faith Wurtzel can be so overwhelmed with these powerful scents that she feels physically ill.

"It causes instant nausea," she explained, and questions how these products are made. "The industry isn't being honest about what's really in these products."

A new study out of the University of Washington analyzed more than two dozen common household products which were scented, and came up with some troubling results.

"All of them emitted chemicals that are classified as toxic or hazardous under federal laws," said Professor Anne Steinemann, the study's author.

More than a third of the products, some of which were labeled organic, emitted at least one carcinogenic chemical, such as formaldehyde.

"These chemicals are ones that can damage the brain, the lungs, the central nervous system," said Steinemann.

What's more disturbing is that a consumer would never know by looking at the labels. Fragrances are listed as proprietary which means manufacturers are under no obligation to list those ingredients.

"The paradox," said Steinemann, "is that if these chemicals are coming out of a smokestack, you would know about it, and it would be regulated. If it's coming out of an air freshener, you wouldn't know about it, and it's not regulated."

Dr. Todd Bania, a toxicologist cautions that this, "doesn't mean that every time you are exposed to them you're going to get cancer."

However, if these products are used frequently, over a prolonged amount of time, there could be cause for concern.

"Especially, if you have any pulmonary diseases, if you have asthma," explained Dr. Bania.

The industry, represented by the Fragrance Materials Association, said their products are safe. In a statement, they said Steinemann's research "cannot be compared to the sound, independent, four-step safety testing, carried out by the fragrance industry."

The Household Product Labeling Act is currently being reviewed by the U.S. Senate. It would require manufacturers to list the ingredients in these types of products.

The study didn't release the brand names they tested. The researchers feel this is an industry wide issue, and shouldn't be tied to one particular product

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