For years, our personal injury and wrongful death lawyers have heard from clients and friends that they are “sensitive to” certain fragrances and fragranced products. We have heard firsthand and anecdotally that certain people can become sickened by fragrances in simple, and common, household products.
A recent study by researchers at the University of Washington may begin to explain why this occurs. The researchers looked at commonly used household products that contained fragrance mixtures – designed to give off a fresh or pleasing scent. This includes cleaning supplies such as air fresheners, laundry and dish detergents, fabric softeners and dryer sheets, soaps, hand sanitizers, lotions, deodorants, shampoos, disinfectants, and other cleaners. The study determined that almost a quarter of the chemicals and additives emitted by those products were classified as either toxic or hazardous by the federal government. Frighteningly, every product studied – that’s right, every one – emitted at least one such chemical.
It is important to note that the study did not concern itself with all substances found in a particular product, only those actually emitted from the product. Shockingly, around one-third of the products emitted at least one known carcinogen – classified as a “probable carcinogen” by the federal Environmental Protection Agency – and which has been listed by the EPA as having no safe exposure level.
This is in addition to the many chemicals emitted by these products whose effects have never been studied, and are simply unknown. And fully half of the products looked at by the study were labeled as “green” in one way or another (green, organic, or natural).
New legislation may change the landscape for manufacturers of these products, however. Currently pending in Congress (proposed last year) is the Household Product Labeling Act. The act would require manufacturers to report “any fragrance, dye, or preservative, and any component of such fragrance, dye, or preservative” used in a wide variety of household products, including cleaners, air fresheners and deodorizers, floor and furniture polish, dish-washing soaps, and drain cleaners.
Our Chicago products liability lawyers encourage the newly elected Congress to put this valuable regulation in place. It may be years before we truly understand the health consequences of the fumes we breathe from these products on a daily basis. It will surely be years more before the manufacturers of these products can be made to pay for the harm they have done, through lawsuits, government action, or otherwise.
But at least, if the manufacturers are required to disclose this information, consumers can make intelligent and informed decisions. Publicly displaying this information will allow consumers to avoid known toxic substances, and create pressure on manufacturers to actually remove these substances from their products. Moreover, it will allow researchers to focus their efforts on commonly used substances to determine their effects.
We hope that this important regulatory change is made in the near future. In the meantime, we encourage our clients and readers to think twice before buying scented household products.
For a free consultation with an experienced Chicago product liability lawyer at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500.