Watch CBS News

Could Common Household Scented Products Make You Ill?

NEW YORK (CBS 2) -- Walk down any cleaning aisle in your grocery store and just try to find a product that's not scented. From dryer sheets to shampoos, most household items contain fragrance. However, a new study finds what makes these items smell good may actually make them hazardous to your health, Kristine Johnson reports.

"I got interested in this topic because I had so many calls and emails from hundreds of people telling me they were getting sick from common fragrance household products," said Anne Steinemann, professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Washington.

Steinemann led the study which analyzed more than two dozen commonly used scented items and said her findings were surprising and distressing.

"All of them emitted chemicals that are classified as toxic or hazardous under federal laws," she said.

Steinemann said more than a third of the products, even some labeled organic, emitted at least one chemical like formaldehyde.

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

And, Steinemann said, you'd never know it by looking at the label because fragrances are considered proprietary, so they're under no obligation to list their ingredients.

"The paradox is if these chemicals were coming out of a smoke stack we 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," she said.

Toxicologist Dr. Tod Bania with St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital said the levels of potentially hazardous chemicals found in these products are considered low.

"That doesn't mean that every time you are exposed to them you're going to get cancer," he said.

However, if used frequently over a prolonged periods of time, there is cause for concern.

"Especially if you have any pulmonary diseases, if you have asthma," he cautioned.

Faith Wurtzel said scented products make her feel so sick. She's always questioned what they're made off.

"The industry is not being honest about what's really in these products," she said.

The industry, represented by The Fragrance Materials Association, said --says these scented products are safe. In a statement they said the "study presents no new data or breakthrough analysis." They likened it to "crystal ball gazing" that "cannot be compared to the sound, independent four-step safety testing carried out by the fragrance industry."

Still, Wurtzel said, she now avoids these products and is using other options in her home.

"If you really want to stay away from these things, it's important to know what's in these compounds, and if it's not listed on there it's kind of hard to avoid it," said Dr. Bania.

The Household Product Labeling Act was currently under review by the Senate. It would require manufacturers to list all ingredients on the labels, including those used for scents.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.