PETALING JAYA: The air freshener we put in our cars or at home may smell sweet but they could be doing us more harm than we realise.
Six commonly used household air freshener products found at supermarkets and shops nationwide were tested by a consumer group for four dangerous chemicals – toluene, benzene, formaldehyde and phthalates.
All were found to contain relatively high levels of at least one of these chemicals, with phthalates – which are endocrine disrupting substances (EDS) – found in four of the six products.
Long-term exposure to EDS can lead to irreversible damage to the immune system and the brain.
According to Ratna Devi Nadarajan, the CEO of the Malaysian Association of Standards Users that conducted the test, EDS could even cause males to act more feminine and vice-versa.
“It can also stunt the development of vital organs and cause miscarriages. The extent of the damage, however, depends on the individual’s health, with pregnant women and children at higher risk,” she said.
Some air fresheners, Ratna said, were found to have a mixture of several types of phthalates, which is even more dangerous.
Two of the air fresheners were found to contain toluene, which can cause damage to the liver, kidney and brain over long-term usage.
The association also found that a locally manufactured air freshener had the highest content of harmful chemicals – it had toluene and three types of phthalates.
Ratna pointed out that many people, especially in urban areas, spent a few hours in their cars every day, inhaling the chemicals from the air fresheners.
“At the very least, these chemicals can cause headaches, nausea and depression,” she said.
When in a confined environment like in a car with very little fresh air, she said the chemicals were more harmful.
Ratna said they were still waiting for data on the limitation and regulation of air fresheners from the local regulators as well as other countries to do a comparison.
Consumers should avoid using air fresheners too often and instead opt for natural ventilation and hygiene at home, she advised.
She suggested natural alternatives such as pandan leaves, lemongrass and charcoal.
National Poison Centre consultant Dr T. Jayabalan warned that there could be a delayed onset of the harm from using air fresheners making it difficult to link it to the cause.
He said phthalates had been classified by the United States Environmental Protection Agency as a “probable human carcinogen” which means it could cause cancer, while the US Department of Health and Human Services had classified it as a “potential carcinogen”.
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