One of the world’s leading researchers on air quality and what impacts it has just released the results of her latest study on volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted from 37 different products, such as air fresheners, cleaning products, laundry supplies, and personal care products, including those with certifications and claims of “green” and “organic”. Dr. Anne Steinemann, Professor of Civil Engineering, and the Chair of Sustainable Cities, from the Department of Infrastructure Engineering, Melbourne School of Engineering, found that common consumer products, including those marketed as “green”, “all-natural”, “non-toxic”, and “organic”, emit a range of compounds that could harm human health and air quality. The study, published in the journal Air Quality, Atmosphere & Health found 156 different VOCs emitted from the 37 products, with an average of 15 VOCs per product. Of these 156 VOCs, 42 are classified as toxic or hazardous under U.S. federal laws, and each product emitted at least one of these chemicals.
Findings revealed that emissions of carcinogenic hazardous air pollutants from “green” fragranced products were not significantly different from regular fragranced products. In total, more than 550 volatile ingredients were emitted from these products, but fewer than 3 percent were disclosed on any product label or material safety data sheet (MSDS).
“The paradox is that most of our exposure to air pollutants occurs indoors and a primary source is consumer products,” Professor Steinemann said. “But the public lacks full and accurate information on the ingredients in these products. Our indoor air environments are essentially unregulated and unmonitored.”
The most common chemicals in fragranced products were terpenes, which were not in fragrance-free versions. Terpenes readily react with ozone in the air to generate a range of additional pollutants, such as formaldehyde and ultrafine particles.
At this time, consumer products sold in Australia, the United States and around the world are not required to list all ingredients, or any ingredients in a chemical mixture called “fragrance.”
Professor Steinemann, who was interviewed previously in Green Lodging News for an article on Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, went on to say that, “Given the lack of information, consumers may choose products with claims such as ‘green’, ‘natural’, or ‘organic’, but those claims are largely untested.”
The full article is available, free of charge, on Professor Steinemann’s website (under Recent Publications, “Volatile Emissions from Common Consumer Products”): http://people.eng.unimelb.edu.au/asteinemann/.