INDOOR AIR QUALITY UK

 

 

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IAQ UK is an independent organisation with the aim of 'raising the agenda of indoor air quality within the home and workplace'

IAQUK Resources - Perfume and Odours

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Concerns


Linalool, (sweet, floral, woody and lavender aroma) the most abundant chemical, included in 60-80% of perfumed hygiene products and cleaning agents is known to cause lethargy, depression, and life-threatening respiratory effects. Studies show that fragrance chemicals can cause health effects, with some data suggests that as many as 75% of known asthmatics have asthma attacks that are triggered by perfumes (Shim and Williams, 1986). Many of the chemicals are nerve toxins with recognised effects on the central nervous system. Others weaken the immune system, leaving the user vulnerable to infection and disease. Fragrance chemicals also have the potential to effect and possibly damage brain tissue. In 1989, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health recognised 884 substances (many synthetically derived from petrochemicals) from a list of 2,983 chemicals used in the fragrance industry which were capable of causing cancer, birth defects, central nervous system disorders, allergic respiratory reactions, skin and eye irritations. Despite these ingredients that are known to cause asthma and even cancer, we are encouraged by powerful advertising to envelop ourselves every day with this pollutant.

 

Reviewing manufacturer’s safety datasheets, acetone, often found in perfume, when inhaled can cause mild central nervous system disturbances such as dizziness, nausea, lack of coordination, slurred speech and drowsiness. Vapours can produce symptoms similar to those of indigestion; it can irritate the eyes, nose, throat, and skin. Alpha-pinene (pine-aroma) can be a moderate irritant to skin, eyes, and mucus membranes. Alpha-terpineol (lilac aroma) can cause excitement, loss of muscular coordination, hypothermia, central nervous system and respiratory depression and headache. Toluene was detected in every fragrance sample collected by the US Environmental Protection Agency for a report in 1991. Toluene not only triggers asthma attacks, it is known to cause asthma in previously healthy people

 

According to ‘Air Currents’, publication of Allen and Handsbury's Respiratory Institute, division of Glaxo,  asthma has increased in the past decade by 31%, and in the same period asthma deaths have increased by 31%. Women and those over 65 years of age suffer the highest death rate for asthma. The reasons for increased risks are unclear and could include smoking, allergies, obesity, stress, environmental, genetic factors or a combination of all. Pre-existing conditions can also be affected by our environment with 72% of asthma patients in a study have adverse reactions to perfumes; i.e., pulmonary function tests dropping anywhere between 18% and 58% below baseline.

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Several studies indicate that 15-30% of the general population reports some sensitivity to chemicals, including fragrances, and 4-5% report that chemical intolerance has a major impact on their quality of life:


  • 28% "especially sensitive to chemical odours – sample size 809 (college students)  
  • 34% with chemical sensitivity to chemical odours – sample size 192 (older adults)  
  • 15% with chemical sensitivity to chemical odours – sample size 643 (young adults)  
  • 32% with chemical sensitivities - sample size 3948 (office workers)  

 

More than 80% report that exposure to fragrances is bothersome.  The US EPA (1991) conducted a study into VOCs and included perfumes, identifying 150 chemicals in the 31 fragrances products. A few chemicals found in fragrances are known to cause cancer and birth defects: methylene chloride; toluene; methyl ethyl ketone; methyl isobutyl ketone; tert Butyl; sec Butyl; benzyl chloride. Other chemicals found in fragrances known to be neurotoxic: hexachlorophene; acetyl-ethyl-tetramethyl-tetralin; zinc-pyridinethione; 2,4, dinitro-3-methyl-6-tert-butylanisole; 1-Butanol; 2-butanol; tert-Butanol; Isobutanol; t-Butyl Toluene. Benzyl Acetate, Benzyl Alcohol, Benzaldehyde, Camphor, Ethanol xtr known to cause kidney damage in humans.

 

Studies have shown that inhaling fragrances can also cause circulatory changes and electrical activity in the brain. These changes can trigger migraine headaches; affect the ability to concentrate, dizziness and fatigue . Research suggests that perfumed products may contribute towards Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) a behaviour problem in children (CDC, 2003); particularly the use of the plasticizer phthalates diethyl phthalate (DEP) or di-methyl phthalate (DMP), have been associated with numerous impacts on male reproductive health including changes in hormone levels and genital development in baby boys (CDC, 2003). DEP and DMP are used to help a scent to linger longer. In hair sprays, phthalates also avoid stiffness by allowing the spray to form a flexible film on the hair.

 

Sprays or aerosol cans used to dissipate microscopic substance particles into the atmosphere can also be inhaled into the deep recess of the lungs due to the size of the particles.  Daniel Perl, Director of Neuropathology at Mount Sinai Medical Centre in New York has found that aluminium in aerosol form may be more readily absorbed into the brain through the nasal passages. Studies show that regular use of these products, in particular deodorant aerosols can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s by as much as 3 times.  A room containing an air freshener has high levels of p-dichlorobenzene (a carcinogen) and ethanol according to US EPA's 1991 study. 2004 research concluded that mothers who used air fresheners daily suffered almost 10% more headaches than those who used them less than once a week. And that of the mothers who used air fresheners, 16% suffered from depression compared with 12.7% of those mothers who hardly ever used air fresheners.

 

Fragrance formulas are considered trade secrets; manufacturers only have to state fragrance on the label and do not need to identify the chemical makeup. Fragrance free or unscented does not guarantee they do not contain fragrance chemicals: they imply they have no perceptible odour. A product labelled unscented may contain a masking fragrance. If fragrance is added to a product to mask or cover up the odour of other ingredients, it is not required to be put on the label. A product must be marked without perfume to indicate that no fragrance has been added. Such labelling schemes result in confusion of consumers who might consider a product to be natural and scent free. In November 2013, the international fragrance association (IFRA) released a press statement applauding the adoption of the EU Commission’s proposal on the protection against unlawful acquisition, use and disclosure of confidential business information referring to their perfume manufacturing members as law-abiding entrepreneurs who are put into a competitive disadvantage by having to reveal their creative secrets. Their submission to the EU focused on the economic impact that a weaken intellectual property protection of fragrances would endanger future job and wealth creation in the EU industry sectors.

 

Fragrance free or unscented does not guarantee they do not contain fragrance chemicals: they imply they have no perceptible odour. A product labeled “unscented” may contain a masking fragrance. If fragrance is added to a product to mask or cover up the odour of other ingredients, it is not required to be put on the label.


A product must be marked “without perfume” to indicate that no fragrance has been added. Ninety-five percent of the chemicals used in fragrances are petroleum-based synthetic compounds.

History

 

Throughout history, humans have drawn fragrances from the natural environment for a variety of purposes, including use in religious and burial rituals, in aphrodisiacs, and to cover foul odours. In the late 1800's the first fragrance-containing synthesized ingredients were introduced. In 1868, English chemist William Perkin synthesised coumarin from the South American tonka bean to create a fragrance that smelled like freshly sown hay. Ferdinand Tiemann of the University of Berlin created synthetic violet and vanilla in 1882.

 

In 1889 in the United States, Francis Despard Dodge created citronellol, by experimenting with citronella oil, creating flora odours within different variations; this synthetic compound gives off the scents of sweet pea, lily of the valley, narcissus and hyacinth. Other synthetic perfumes included nitrobenzene, made from nitric acid and benzene, which is extremely carcinogenic; this synthetic mixture emits an almond smell and was often used to scent soaps.

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Fragrances are now used in almost every cleaning, laundry and personal-care product on the market. Since people have been using perfumes for hundreds of years, it’s reasonable to wonder why the problem of using scents has surfaced only recently. Until the 20th century, perfumes were made from natural ingredients derived directly from plants and animals, and as fragrances became cheaper and more widespread, they also became more synthetic.

 

 In 1989, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health recognized 884 poisonous substances (many synthetically derived from petrochemicals) from a list of 2,983 chemicals used in the fragrance industry capable of causing cancer, birth defects, central nervous system disorders, allergic respiratory reactions, skin and eye irritations. According to the National Institute of Health, in view of the escalating incidence of cancer, as well as a 58% increase in asthma over the past decade, this information is crucial.

 

  • Acetone — when inhaled, it can cause mild central nervous system disturbances such as dizziness, nausea, lack of coordination, slurred speech, and drowsiness. It can irritate the eyes, nose, throat, and skin.
  • Alpha-pinene — can be a moderate irritant to skin, eyes, and mucus membranes.
  • Alpha-terpineol — can cause excitement, loss of muscular coordination, hypothermia, central nervous system and respiratory depression, and headache.
  • Benzaldehyde, a chemical known to cause kidney damage in humans is used in fragrances
  • Benzyl Acetate used in fragrances is linked to a cause of pancreatic cancer
  • Ethyl Acetate is a known carcinogenic, causing kidney and liver failure and it is used in fragrances

 

Air filters are often unable to remove perfume particles from the air, thus exposing occupants within a building to some manner to the elevated chemical levels.

Several studies indicate that 15-30% of the general population reports some sensitivity to chemicals, including fragrances, and 4-5% report that chemical intolerance has a major impact on their quality of life. Of these people, more than 80% report that exposure to fragrances is bothersome.

 

Synthetic organic chemicals constitute more than 80-90% (by weight and value) of the raw materials used in flavor and fragrance formulations. A single fragrance may contain as few as ten chemicals, or as many as several hundred, and little is known about the impact these fragrances have on human health.

 

There is absolutely no way to know what you are being exposed to in any given fragrance. Since there are 5,000 different chemicals used in making fragrances, any given fragrance may have as many as 600 different chemical ingredients, yet only a fraction of those chemicals have been tested for their health effects.

 

Studies show that fragrance chemicals can cause health effects, primarily the skin, lungs, and brain. Some data suggests that as many as 75% of known asthmatics have asthma attacks that are triggered by perfumes. Fragrance chemicals have the potential to affect, and possibly damage, brain tissue. For example, Linalool, the most abundant chemical in perfume and fragrance products is known to cause lethargy, depression, and life-threatening respiratory effects.

 

Fragrance is a common indoor air pollutant, and synthetic fragrance compounds accumulate in human tissue and are found in breast milk. The Institute of Medicine placed fragrance in the same category as secondhand smoke in triggering asthma in adults and school age children.

 

The issue of fragrance may be as controversial as today’s tobacco smoke issue. The debate over people’s right to smoke versus others’ right to breathe clean air could also be applied to fragrance.

Olfactory Marketing

 

Through out history, humans have drawn fragrances from the natural environment for a variety of purposes, including use in religious and burial rituals, in aphrodisiacs, and to cover foul odours. In the late 1880's the first fragrance-containing synthesized ingredients were introduced.

 

Since then, people have used chemicals extensively to mimic scents from nature. There are more than 1,000 body fragrances on the market today, according to The Fragrance Foundation, and scents are now added to many commercial products ranging from cleaning products to tissues, from candles to nappys.

 

The sense of smell is often overlooked as a way of marketing products. The controlled application of scent is used by designers, scientists, artists, perfumers, architects and chefs. Some applications of scents in environments are in casinos, hotels, private clubs and new automobiles. Technicians at New York City’s Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center disperse vanilla-scented oil into the air to help patients cope with the claustrophobic effects of MRI testing. Scents are used at the Chicago Board of Trade to lower the decibel level on the trading floor.

 

The new car smell is not intentional by the manufacturer but is the smell of a number of harmful chemicals, including antimony, bromine, chlorine, and lead. Repeated and concentrated exposure to any of these chemicals may contribute to a variety of acute and long-term health issues such as birth defects, impaired learning, liver toxicity, and cancer.

 

Currently there is no regulation of the use of scent in product design.  The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) reports that 95 percent of the ingredients used to create fragrances today are synthetic compounds derived from petroleum, including benzene derivatives, aldehydes, and many other known toxins and sensitizers. Many of these substances have been linked to cancer, birth defects, central nervous system disorders, and allergic reactions.

 

An additional complication in challenging our understanding is the perception and acceptability of a contaminant by the occupant. Despite the various literature discussing IAQ, there has been a gap in understanding occupant’s reaction to a pollutant based on their opinion of risk. With the increasing use of scent marketing and personal fragrance application, acceptability of such pollutants creates a significant concern for our generation. The lack of association papers discussing perfume requires addressing and the significance of the problem provides justification to devote a sub chapter to this topic.

 

Smell is a socio-cultural phenomenon, associated with varied meanings, such as a status symbol, a danger signal, even a school boys’s joke.  Odours define the individual and the group, as do sight, sound and the other senses; and smell, like them, mediates social interaction.

 

Generally, odour perception is a primal sense that provides a sense of danger, navigation and location of resources. In today’s society, it also provides an adequate warning for the onset of eye/airway irritation. The understanding that certain odours present a health risk has a strong influence on perception and how occupants may respond to the odour. As an example when natural gas leaks, it has a chemically infused smell that people recognize and understand as a risk. With an increase of artificial odours/perfume used within our everyday lives, evaluating the need for additional odours within our indoor environment stimulates further debate regarding economical/social needs versus health impact

 

Marketing of products using aromas has also increased. In 1955 the classic Silver Cloud I Rolls-Royce car, tailored with red Wilton wool carpet and burl walnut for the doors and dashboard, the masterpiece of designer John Polwhele Blatchley was launched to the discernible buyer. For those fortunate enough to have purchased one of the 2,395 manufactured, the high quality of craftsmanship was the ‘Spirit of Ecstasy’. However by the competitive mid-1990s, customers began complaining that the brand Rolls-Royce did not live up to their proceeding glamorous models. Following reflective evaluation, Rolls-Royce used the 1965 Silver Cloud I model as a reference point to identify the different heady aromas associated with their brand. An olfactory analysis deconstructed the odours and found over eight hundred distinct elements, with expected ones like leather and mahogany but also unexpected matters such as underseal, oil and felt. Many of these products were no longer suitable for modern cars due to their safety implications and were replaced with products such as plastics and foams to recreate the look. Therefore Rolls-Royce decided to recreate the smell of traditional materials artificially and infuse into synthetic materials. The alluring scent of luxury became so successful; the manufacturers bottled their brand.  The new car smell is now a universal and familiar tactic of most car manufacturers and those companies who valet existing vehicles. Rolls Royce had inadvertently become the innovator behind scent marketing, whereby a customer becomes attracted to a product without consciously understanding the relationship of attraction and the influence that smell can skew their visual and audio senses.

 

A perfume consists of volatile chemical compounds that are sufficient enough in concentration to affect our olfactory perception. Their composition is usually complex; it involves numerous natural and synthetic sweet-smelling constituents, more than 5,000 of which are known. These products include beauty aids, household cleaners, scented candles and room sprays.

 

95% of the chemicals used in fragrances today are synthetic compounds derived from petroleum, including benzene derivatives, aldehydes, and many other known toxins and sensitizers which are known toxins capable of causing allergic respiratory disorders (asthma), as well as neurological and cutaneous disorders. 84% of these ingredients have never been tested for human toxicity, or have been tested only minimally, since 1965 more than 4 million distinct chemical compounds have been reported in the scientific literature; of these, 70,000 are in commercial production and have been completely untested or inadequately tested’ with a spend of ‘£1 billion per year in 1940 to £400 billion in the 1980s.

 

Useful link providing details of perfume allergies.  More...

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