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Air Fresheners and Cleaning Chemicals could have Health Risks

May 24th, 2006

Air Fresheners and Cleaning Chemicals could have Health Risks

Mop Bucket

According to a research study from the University of California, Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory air fresheners and cleaning chemicals used indoors could be bad for your health.

When used indoors in a small space, commonly used household cleaners and air fresheners emit toxic pollutants, which are sometimes at dangerous levels and could lead to health problems.

The pollutants along with the secondary pollutants that are formed when mixed with the ozone might exceed regulatory guidelines if used in a small room while cleaning a large surface area on a regular basis.  Chronic exposure increases the toxic exposure and the health risks.

The study researched the amounts of primary and secondary toxic compounds created in with a variety of different cleaning and air freshener chemicals in an indoor setting, to determine any potential hazards of using these products.


"We've focused a lot of effort in the last decades on controlling the big sources of air pollution and on the chemicals in consumer products that contribute to outdoor ozone formation. However, now we've learned that we need to pay attention to other aspects of pollution sources that are right under our nose," said William Nazaroff, a UC Berkeley professor of environmental engineering and the study's lead author.

California Air Resources Board (ARB) funded the study to understand how consumer products used in the homes causes pollution.  The goal for ARB is to create regulations that will protect public health and welfare.  They have been doing so for the past 4 decades.

The full report titled, “Indoor Air Chemistry: Cleaning Agents, Ozone and Toxic Air Contaminants” was published online at the following location

The two chemicals studied were Ethylene-based glycol ethers and terpenes.

Ethylene-based glycol ethers are most often found in various cleaning agents, latex paints, and other products as well.  Ethylene-based glycol ethers are considered to be considered hazardous air pollutants according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 1990 Clean Air Act Amendment.  The toxicity of Ethylene-based glycol ethers can vary in toxicity depending on the product.


Terpenes are not considered toxic by themselves.  Terpenes are found in pine, lemon and orange oils that are used for either a solvent or to give a distinctive scent.  The problem with the terpenes is that they produce a toxic compound when it reacts with ozone.  Outdoor air containing ozone entering the household, copiers and printers, and some air purifiers are sources for ozone indoors.

The researchers tested air fresheners, cleaning products, disinfectants, general purpose degreasers, wood cleaners, furniture maintenance products, spot removers, and multi-purpose solvents.  They tested a total of 21 products that are commonly available at retail stores in Northern California.

The reaction with the terpene containing products had with ozone was similar to the effects of smog and haze.  There also was presence of formaldehyde which is a respirator irritant and a carcinogen.  According to the International Agency for Cancer Research this is a Group 1 carcinogen which is known to cause cancer in humans.  The amount of terpenes and the amount of ozone were both factors in creating the toxicity levels.


The researchers give some examples of dangerous scenarios that could be harmful to your health, they write the following:

Cleaning in a small, moderately ventilated bathroom.
In calculations based on emissions from one of the glycol-ether containing products, the team found that a person who spends 15 minutes cleaning scale off of a shower stall could inhale three times the "acute one-hour exposure limit" for this compound set by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment.

Air freshener and ozone in a child's bedroom.
This scenario could occur when people use both air fresheners and ozone-generating devices simultaneously in a room. This could lead to exposures to formaldehyde that are 25 percent higher than California's guideline value. Because other sources of formaldehyde could also be present in the room, exposure to formaldehyde would probably be even higher, the report states.

Multi-house cleaning by a professional home cleaner.
Under this scenario, a person who cleans four houses a day, five days per week, 50 weeks per year, would take in about 80 micrograms per day of formaldehyde, double the guideline value set by California's Proposition 65. In addition, the person's intake of fine particulate matter during the hours spent cleaning would exceed the average federal guideline level for an entire year. These quantities are in addition to the formaldehyde and particulate matter that the person would be exposed to from all other sources and activities during the year.”

Nazaroff recommends using care with cleaning products, especially cleaning professionals who are at the highest risk.  Make sure to ventilate the room you are cleaning.  Try to use diluted versions instead of the full strength cleaner.  He recommends not using ozone generators or ionizing air cleaners if you are going to use terpene containing cleaning products or air fresheners.

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Keywords and misspellings: cleening chemicals osone dangers chemical dangers air freshener cancer danger scented air carcinigen danger

Important:  The material on Best Syndication is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for any medical conditions. You should promptly seek professional medical care if you have any concern about your health, and you should always consult your physician before starting a fitness program.

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Copyright 2005 Best Syndication                   Last Updated Saturday, July 10, 2010 09:47 PM