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Despite the fact that it can cause blindness if it gets into the eyes, bring on an asthma attack in asthmatics and break skin out in a rash, a typical can of air freshener doesn’t usually have an adequate warning on the label – and the law says it doesn’t have to.
Ingredients are seldom listed on a can of air freshener. All too often the product information on the label does not tell consumers what they need to know. This is a sample taken from a cross-section of air freshening product labels available in stores as of April 2010:
Power House brand manufactured by Personal Care Products Inc. "Rose Bouquet" fragrance air freshener states this warning: "Avoid contamination of food" and "The user of this product assumes all risks of use." There are no ingredients listed on this label.
Air Wick "Crisp Breeze" fragrance air freshener manufactured by Reckitt Benckiser Inc. has the following warning on the packaging: "Intentional misuse by deliberately concentrating and inhaling the contents can be harmful or fatal." They also provide the website inhalent.org as a resource. There are no ingredients listed on this label.
Renuzit "Caribbean Cooler" electric gel refills manufactured by the Dial Corporation carry this warning: "Use with care around birds and other sensitive household pets." In addition to this, the label states that this product "may irritate." There are no ingredients listed on this label.
Oust brand air freshener spray states on the label that allergy sufferers should "consult" their physicians before use. There is not a full list of ingredients on this product.
The US Government and Air Freshener Labels
The NRDC Natural Resources Defense Council – the New York City based environmental action group – is urging the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Consumer Product Safety Commission to regulate the labeling on these potentially harmful products. They are also petitioning the EPA and the US Consumer Product Safety Commission "to do more comprehensive testing and to take action to protect the public from dangerous chemicals in air fresheners."
But the EPA has focused primarily on the ill effects associated with the extensive use of plug-in air fresheners. The EPA last updated information on this subject in 2008. In 2004 EPA researchers published Full-Scale Chamber Investigation and Simulation of Air Freshener Emissions in the Presence of Ozone in the Environmental Science & Technology journal.
The report reveals that tests conducted by the EPA show that "additional air pollutants can result when high levels of ozone from an ozone-generated air cleaner and emissions from multiple plug-in air fresheners of the type tested, interact with each other."
The EPA states that this research was "preliminary" and contains "insufficient information to assess the health effects of the plug-in air fresheners…" But the report does go on to say that "It should be noted that, under normal use conditions, some individuals, including those with asthma or other respiratory illnesses, may be more sensitive to the fragrances of air fresheners and should contact their physicians if there are any concerns."
The EPA says that plug-ins do not provide a satisfactory removal of contaminants from the air within the home. They also say that "the use of ozone-generating air cleaners is not recommended."