Your air freshener may be primed to whisk you off to an alpine meadow in springtime or a verdant oasis after a rain shower, but it could also be blasting a raft of toxic contaminants all around you.
In 2006, a study conducted by scientists at University of California, Berkeley for the California Air Resources Board revealed that terpenes-a class of chemicals found in pine, lemon, and orange oils, but themselves are not considered harmful-can react with indoor ozone to create formaldehyde, which the researchers dubbed a "respiratory irritant classified as a group one carcinogen."
But terpenes are not the only ingredients under investigation. Naphthalene, dichlorobenzene (specifically 1,4 DCB), along with synthetic musks and "parfums" have all raised red flags in other studies, as well as by activist groups such as Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund. Air fresheners and aerosols are also a common source of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). In 2004, a long-running study by the University of Bristol, which has followed the growth and development of 14,000 children since before birth, noted that 32 percent more babies developed diarrhea in homes where air fresheners-whether they were sticks, sprays, or aerosols-were used on a daily basis, compared with homes where they were used once a week or less. The babies also suffered significantly higher incidences of earache.
If that's not nearly bad enough, a recent investigation of 14 common air fresheners by the National Resources Defense Council uncovered pthalates, which are known to cause birth defects, as well as interfere with the production of testosterone, in 12 of them-even products marketed as "all-natural" and "unscented."
From the NRDC's "Clearing the Air: Hidden Hazards of Air Fresheners." DEP: di-ethyl phthalate; DBP: di-n-butyl phthalate; DIBP: di-isobutyl phthalate; DMP: di-methyl phthalate; DIHP: di-isohexyl phthalate
Instead of squirting synthetic air fresheners, here are some ways to freshen your home without the toxins:
1. Throw open the windows and ventilate your home when the air outside is clean.
2. Remove the source of the offending odor, whether it's the contents of your garbage or a poopy litter box.
3. For an all-natural fragrant spray, fill a mister bottle with filtered water, then add a few drops of your favorite essential oil
4. Place sachets of organic herbs (such as lavender) in drawers and closets
5. Simmer some organic apple cider-with a couple of sticks of cinnamon and several whole cloves-over low heat for three to four hours for a delectable air freshener you can also drink
6. Burn a soy candle or use a diffuser with pure, preferably organic, essential oils
7. Alternate baking soda and vinegar to neutralize odors
Difficulty level: Easy