By Alanna Brown, LuxEco Editorial Assistant
According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article entitled “Fragrance Chemicals and the Scent of Suspicion,” the fragrance industry has been keeping vital chemical information from the public. The article says two recent reports, one by the Environmental Working Group and one by Women’s Voices for the Earth, have caused a stir amongst researchers, environmental groups, consumers, and industry legislation. These “beauty secrets” reveal that on the label of any given personal care product, bottle of perfume, or cleaning agent the word “fragrance” is loaded with unknown meaning and potentially, toxins. Manufacturers have used this one word, a nondescript listing among the other ingredients, as a catch-all to legally mask the dozen-or-more chemicals not actually listed.
Some are saying the reports of potential toxins are “unnecessarily alarming.” Jennifer Abril, Executive Director of the Fragrance Materials Association, has said, “she herself is a mother and has no qualms about using fragrance products in her home.”
However, there is enough adversity over the matter that many other industry activists are demanding to know exactly what ingredients consumers are spraying on themselves and in their homes. With as many as 3,163 chemicals comprising just one scent, the broad term “fragrance” isn’t cutting it.
Maziar Movassaghi, acting director of the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, looks to the historical examples of lead and DDT to arouse concern. “…History suggests that sometimes chemicals only seem safe until science advances enough to prove they’re not,” he points out. A 2009 study conducted by researchers at the University of Washington found that a variety of air fresheners and laundry products harbor numerous volatile chemicals under the term “fragrance”—some of them already determined by federal law as toxic or hazardous. Potential toxins in fragrance chemicals range from reproductive and developmental harm to increased risk of breast cancer.
As of now, the fragrance industry is virtually self-regulated, with the Research Institute for Fragrance Materials to keep a record of chemical studies, an internal panel to evaluate those studies, and the International Fragrance Association to use those evaluations for setting safety standards. The Food and Drug Administration currently has no say in recalling harmful products, and the Environmental Protection Agency’s last petition to ban a harmful chemical—asbestos in 1990—was rejected.
The California Department of Toxic Substances Control was hoping to implement a new bill by January of 2011, which will reform industry regulation and force companies to seek safer ingredients, but has suffered yet another delay. Two other bills introduced to congress in 2010, if passed, will restore power to the EPA and FDA to regulate fragrance chemicals and begin phasing out those that are considered harmful.
Read the EWG’s opinion on this issue and find a list of chemicals and their suspected harmful side effects.
Read more to learn about household toxins in pesticides and cosmetic beauty secrets.