Air fresheners are commonly used in buildings with indoor built to impart aroma and refreshed the environment and mask the odour. These sprays and aerosols have been considered as one of the major sources of volatile organic compounds in the buildings associated with air pollution. The global market of air fresheners is up to the US $10 billion and is constantly increasing (Steinemann 2017). The largest market lies in Europe with rapid expansion being observed in Asia. Numerous studies have evaluated the impact of the air fresheners and the contents on health and environment making alarming revelations of how they deter the wellbeing of individuals who may get exposed intentionally or unintentionally (Umukoro et al. 2019).
The environmental concern associated with the emissions of the air fresheners is inclusive of the fact that air fresheners emit more than a hundred different chemicals that include volatile organic compounds like terpenes and terpenoids and various semi-volatile organic compounds like phthalates (Umukoro et al. 2019). These emissions react with the indoor oxidants and create complex oxidized compounds degrading the overall air quality of the environment. However, the air fresheners also release the pollutants that severely degrade the air quality. The ingredients in the air fresheners are kept secret due to the fragrance formulations.
The discrepancy in the ingredients available and the impact of the ingredients on the air quality, therefore, remain an unresolved problem. The air fresheners impact the indoor environment both via direct emissions and by indirect measures through the formation of secondary indoor conjugates hampering human health. The use of air fresheners and an increase in indoor pollution by the same has been recognized by the World Health Organization as one of the major risk factors associated with health conditions and accounts for 2.7% of the burden of disease globally (Steinemann 2017).
The volatile compounds are the major source of indoor pollution and are found in high concentrations in the air fresheners. The frequent use of these chemical and synthetic indoor sprays can pose severe health hazards. The major compounds that can pose health risks include lilial, this compound can act as an allergen and is responsible for causing health problems like dermatitis. Another compound, galxaolide is also found in these products and has been known to interfere with the hormonal signalling in the body impacting the metabolic, brain, and behavioural functions. Benzenemethanol is also commonly found in these sprays and acts as an irritant that can cause exacerbation of respiratory problems like asthma and COPD in the patients (Goodmann et al. 2020).
The chemical is also associated with an estrogenic effect and can also result in the development of skin problems. Compounds like acetaldehyde, benzene, and parabens that are often associated with these fresheners are categorized as carcinogens and various endocrine problems. The air fresheners also contain neurotoxins like xylene, toluene, and styrene impacting the health of the individuals. The extensive use of the product, therefore, becomes a major public health problem (Duque et al. 2016). According to Steinmann (2016), 99.1% of the American population is exposed to the fragranced products in a week either by self-application or via passive means. 34.7% of this population has reported the presence of severe health conditions that include respiratory problems, mucosal symptoms, migraines, headaches, skin problems, asthma exacerbation, neurological problems, cognitive difficulties, etc.
In Australia, 16.4% of the population represented health problems that originated with the use of air fresheners and deodorants. Further in another study, 9.1% of individuals complained to have developed respiratory health problems with 6.2% showing mucosal symptoms (Duque et al. 2016). Other common health anomalies with excessive use of deodorizers included asthma attacks, neurological problems, and cardiovascular problems (Kawakami et al. 2017).
Other common compounds that are found in the room fresheners include acetaldehydes, ethanol, acetones, beta-pinene, limonene, etc. that function as volatile organic compounds affecting the indoor air quality and also the health of individuals. The phthalates are commonly used in air fresheners. These compounds when released in the air result in inhalation and absorption in the body and are mixed with the bloodstream. Upon mixing, the phthalates interfere with hormone signalling impacting the overall health and wellbeing of the individuals (Ibrahim et al. 2019).
The compound is also known to interfere with the production of testosterone and result in reproductive anomalies reducing the sperm count and causing neonatal defects. Limonene present in the air fresheners is associated with the development of irritable syndromes in the skin and eyes and may also promote triggering of an allergic reaction. The presence of dichlorobenzene has also been reported in the air fresheners. This is a volatile organic compound and is the major cause of lung function impairment in individuals with high deodorant exposure and exacerbation of conditions like asthma and COPD (Umukoro et al. 2019).
The product emissions from the air fresheners not only impact the indoor environment but also significantly deter the outdoor environment (Ibrahim et al. 2019). The major concern that limits the identification of the health hazards of these air fresheners is their limitation in the disclosure of the ingredients. The air freshener companies are allowed to legally keep the ingredients confidential as “trade secrets” and the fragrance formulations as per the administrative guidelines (Steinemann 2016). Lack of disclosure of this information is problematic as it hinders the correlation of identification of the causative compound with the health problem. It has been studied that win contrast with the disclosed and disclosed compounds in the air freshening products, up to 90% of the ingredients may remain undisclosed.
Further, the concentrations of up to 75% of the ingredients used may not be revealed (Umukoro et al. 2019). This allows the companies and the air freshener industry to sell highly toxic compounds like phthalate in unprecedented concentrations. The common phthalates that ruse din the air fresheners and deodorizers include di-ethyl phthalate, di-butyl phthalate, di-isobutyl phthalate, and dimethyl phthalate (Steinemann 2019). Not disclosing the ingredients also allows the companies to greenwash their products and label them as “eco-friendly” and “natural” contrary to their true composition that is made up of the high number of volatile organic compounds classified as toxic making the claims of the “green” air fresheners or the natural products essentially unmonitored and unregulated (Sim et al. 2019).
Exposure to these compounds in the air fresheners can occur as a consequence of both voluntary and involuntary action. The latter serves to be a major concern as an individual may be exposed to toxic compounds even without knowledge and agreement of the same. The involuntary exposure also impacts the social participation of individuals preventing the access of people with respiratory problems like asthma. In Australia, 11.6% of individuals are reluctant to go to and places with air freshener or scented products (Nematollahi et al. 2019). Lack of awareness among individuals regarding air fresheners is also a major concern. Individuals may not always be aware of the possible toxic effects of the usage of these compounds and therefore may pose a risk to their health by frequent use of these substances.
People who frequently visit public places are at a higher risk of intentional exposure that can result in the exacerbation of their underlying health condition. It can also result in the development of health problems with frequent involuntary exposure serving as a primary risk for health deterioration (Sim et al. 2019). A classical analysis to understand the impact of the chemicals that are most commonly used in these compounds on the health of individuals must also be assessed so that their use is entirely prohibited or limited in the workplace and other public environments to facilitate individuals with health problems like asthma and other respiratory problems(Sim et al. 2019).
For effective limitation on the exposure and health risks posed by the use of air fresheners, a study about how involuntary exposures can be prevented is also crucial. In conclusion, it is important to holistically understand the spectrum and impact of air fresheners to find alternatives for improving indoor air quality and minimize their use to limit the health and environmental risks (Nematollahi et al. 2019).
To minimize the health hazards and to monitor the exposure to these contaminants, a multimodal strategy must be adopted. The first step should be educating the population about the potential hazards of exposure to the contaminants and irritants that are present in the air fresheners and deodorants. Educating people through community welfare programs will ensure that people are ware and more considerate towards the exposures associated with the use of air fresheners (Qureshi et al. 2019). These sessions can be conducted at the healthcare centres with people that have risks of exposure and also in community spaces.
As the awareness regarding the potential hazards of use of air fresheners increases, it also becomes essential for the development and encouragement of the policies that ask the companies to reveal the essential information regarding the components in the formulation so that toxic compounds are eliminated from its manufacturing. It can also be done by prohibiting the use of compounds like toluene, phthalate, and parabens so that alternatives are used in the industry and the health risk to humans is minimized (Nematollahi et al. 2019).
Another method to reduce the risks and exposure is to use immediate interventions that minimize indoor pollution. If the indoor environment in unpleasant, it can be advised to increase the ventilation than to use deodorizers. Several policies in the workplace deemed as “fragrance-free policies” are used to minimize the use of air fresheners in the workplace (Zhang et al. 2020). These policies have also gained large support globally.
It is crucial to understand the hazards that are exposed by the use of air fresheners do not terminate immediately. The compounds released can adsorb on the surfaces and can be internalized hours after the use of these compounds (Qureshi et al. 2019). It is also crucial to direct the research to analyze the cause of the identification of increased use of air fresheners and to assess the public knowledge in the domain (Dales and Cakmak 2019). It is also important to identify how the greenwashing of air fresheners labels with information that cannot be verified impacts the use and purchase of these compounds. It is also important to identify if the air freshener and its compounds are acting as the primary source of pollutants or a secondary conjugate so that the use of these fresheners and deodorizers can be monitored (Kawakami et al. 2017).
In my course of learning about the potentially harmful effects and hazards caused by the common household item like air fresheners, I was exposed to a wide array of information and knowledge that I was unaware of. Even though air fresheners are considered to be potentially harmless and perceived as a regular household item, they can pose significant health risks to the individuals. I was astounded to find out how the use of air fresheners has captured the global market with a business of more than ten billion dollars. I feel, that even when the use of deodorizers is common, it is slightly associated with fancy where fragrance is often used to give an impression of a “clean” environment.
It was also revealing for me to find out how the ingredients of these compounds are not shared by the creators as “fragrance formulation” and toxic chemicals are provided in high concentrations. Now that I am aware of how the use of deodorizers and air fresheners can be extremely toxic and can pose significant health hazards, I am more conscious regarding their use and exposure. An individual cannot prevent unintended exposure from these chemicals in the public environment therefore, I plan to gain further knowledge and educate more people through the generation of awareness regarding the health risks posed by the use of these chemicals. I feel, through this assessment I have been allowed to learn about different dimensions of something as fundamental as the air fresheners and how they can impact our health, intentionally or unintentionally.
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