Air fresheners stink - or so new research would have us believe.

Air fresheners stink - or so new research would have us believe. 

Speciality chemicals producers have reacted strongly to claims by the European Consumers’ Organisation (BEUC) that air fresheners pollute our homes with toxins.

BEUC says that it tested 76 products including sprays, vaporisers, gels, liquid and electric scenters, perfumes, candles, essential oils and incenses, all widely available in Belgium, France, Spain, Italy and Portugal. It claims that many contained respiratory tract irritants, allergens, potential carcinogens and other damaging chemicals. Acetaldehyde, styrene, toluene, chlorobenzene, glycol ethers, phthalates and artificial musk were found, as were traces of formaldehyde and benzene.

After using the products, levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) detected in the air were above the 200 ?g/m3 level - the US standard for healthy indoor air. BEUC says that it found 4000-5000 ?g/m3 in some cases.

BEUC demands toxicological testing prior to marketing and better labelling for consumers to protect vulnerable groups such as children, pregnant women and asthmatics. It also calls for stricter advertising controls to stamp out claims that air fresheners ’purify the air’ or are ’natural products’.

Air fresheners were just one example of consumer products posing this kind of risk, reports BEUC, which criticised Europe’s Reach (Registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals) programme for its focus on industry costs and failure to fully protect consumer safety.

The US Consumer Specialty Products Association (CSPA) hit back at the claims. President Chris Cathcart said: ’While we have not seen the study, the BEUC press statement links questionable findings to a call for new regulations under a highly political European effort to regulate chemicals - the Reach programme.’

Of the chemicals BEUC says it found, Cathcart counters that benzene, toluene and chlorobenzene are not used, and the rest have been erroneously labelled as unsafe.

’The formulators of air fresheners evaluate their products for health and safety to assure that they are safe and effective,’ Cathcart continues. ’Ingredients are routinely examined to ensure that exposure levels from product use, and reasonably foreseeable misuse, are well within the margins of safety established for this category of products.’

German MEP Hartmut Nassauer recently finalised a working document on Reach for the European parliament’s internal market committee, one of several bodies that will adopt subsidiary opinions on the chemicals reform before it goes before the environment committee.

Hartmut advocates prioritisation based on likely risk instead of production volume.

Helen Carmichael