Environmentalist Group Sets Its Sights On Air Freshener Hazards

A new study from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) says that leading air fresheners contain alarming levels of phthalates--chemicals that affect reproductive development, particularly in babies. The environmental watchdog group, which says it believes its test to be the first of its kind in the U.S., currently has more than 1.2 million members, and is considered to be a leader in shaping mainstream opinions about the environment.

Of the 14 different brands tested, only two--Procter & Gamble's Febreze Air Effects and Dial Corp.'s Renuzit Subtle Effects--contained no detectable levels of phthalates. Products under the Glade and Oust brand, both owned by S.C. Johnson, as well as Air Wick and Lysol, both owned by Reckitt Benckiser, all contained phthalates. The three with the highest level of phthalates were Walgreens Air Freshener, Walgreens Scented Bouquet and Ozium Glycolized Air Sanitizer.

Walgreens says it will pull its products, and conduct independent testing. "Prior to the study's release, the manufacturer of one of the Walgreens brand products had already begun the process of reformulating its air freshener to exclude phthalates," a Walgreens spokesperson says. In the meantime, "we are removing the Walgreens brand air fresheners mentioned in the study as a precaution. We will have a phthalate-free version available in our stores soon."

The NRDC estimates that air fresheners are now a $1.72 billion industry in the U.S.--up 50% from 2003, and used by an estimated 75% of households. NRDC says it has filed petitions with both the Environmental Protection Agency and the Consumer Product Safety Commission, in conjunction with the Sierra Club and other environmental groups, to begin testing all air freshener products.

As a result, marketing and labeling claims are likely to come under greater scrutiny. The NRDC says none--including brands marketed as "all-natural" and "unscented"--had phthalates in the list of ingredients or anywhere else on the label. "Consumers have a right to know what is put into air fresheners and other everyday products they bring into their homes," the group says.

Phthalates are hormone-disrupting chemicals that can be particularly dangerous for young children and unborn babies, leading to reproductive abnormalities. The European Union has banned most phthalates from use in toys and cosmetics. A bill banning six phthalates from children's toys is currently awaiting action from the governor of California. (San Francisco's first-in-the-U.S. ban on the substances in children's products is currently facing legal challenges, says an NRDC spokesperson.)

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