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Scented Laundry Products Release Carcinogens, Study Finds

Scented laundry detergent and dryer sheets make laundry smell great – but do they cause cancer?

A small study suggests scented laundry items contain carcinogens that waft through vents, potentially raising cancer risk.

“This is an interesting source of pollution because emissions from dryer vents are essentially unregulated,” said lead author Dr. Anne Steinemann, professor of civil and environmental engineering and of public affairs at the University of Washington, said in a written statement. “If they’re coming out of a smokestack or tail pipe, they’re regulated, but if they’re coming out of a dryer vent, they’re not.”

Previous studies have looked at what chemicals are released by laundry products, since manufacturers don’t have to disclose ingredients used in fragrances or laundry products.

Needless to say, these researchers weren’t thrilled with what they found.

For the study – published in the August issue of Air Quality, Atmosphere and Health – researchers enlisted two homeowners to volunteer their washers and dryers, which the team scrubbed clean beforehand. The researchers ran a regular laundry cycle for three scenarios in each home: once without any detergent, once with a scented liquid laundry detergent, and the last with both scented detergent and a leading brand of scented dryer sheets.

Their analysis found more than 25 “volatile” air pollutants – including the carcinogens acetaldehyde and benzene.

Benzene causes leukemia and other blood cancers, according to the American Cancer Society. Acetaldehyde has been shown to cause nasal and throat cancer in animal studies.

Steinemann thinks agencies focus too much on limiting other pollution sources when they should look closer to home.

“We focus a lot of attention on how to reduce emissions of pollutants from automobiles,” she said. “And here’s one source of pollutants that could be reduced.”

The American Cleaning Institute, however, Steinemann’s study, calling the findings “shoddy science” that didn’t take into account many factors like washing machine brands, different load cycles, and non-scented products.

“Consumers should not be swayed by the sensationalist headlines that may come across the Internet related to this so-called research,” the Institute emailed CBS News.

Ryan Jaslow   CBSNews.com’s health editor.     CBS NEWS      August 26, 2011      CBS Interactive Inc.
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Should perfume ingredients that are potential allergens be restricted?

by Jonathan Ore     March 13, 2013

New rules proposed by the European Union’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety have many perfume lovers, and those in the industry, worried for its future. The committee is recommending limits on the use of more than 100 perfume ingredients that may cause allergic reactions.

Denyse Beaulieu, author of The Perfume Lover: A Personal History of Scent, was critical of the possible implications of such a ban on CBC Radio’s The Current Wednesday morning.

“Every time you change regulations, you have to change the formula in existing perfumes, which is not something that the companies producing those perfumes are paid for,” said Beaulieu, who was born in Montreal but now lives in Paris.

“Now there’s this universal zero-risk mentality. Basically they want to protect us from themselves,” she said.


The Committee is specifically recommending a ban on tree moss and oak moss. The latter is a key ingredient in Chanel No. 5, one of the world’s best-known fragrances.

The EU isn’t expected to make a final decision until late 2014.

Restrictions on perfume ingredients have happened before. According to Reuters, birth tar oil was removed from Guerlian’s Shalimar product because it was a suspected cancer risk. And clove oil, lavender and rose oil can only be used in limited quantities because they might trigger an allergic reaction.

Major perfume brands have reformulated their olefactory concoctions thanks to these restrictions, although the industry’s high degree of secrecy means that the exact chemical compositions of the most popular fragrances remain a mystery.

Still, some lament that changes over the years, which include replacing natural ingredients with synthetics that do not cause allergic reactions, has diluted their potency and complexity.

source: CBC