25 August 2011

Scented laundry products emitting carcinogens

by Kate Melville

The United States' top-selling scented liquid laundry detergent and scented dryer sheet emit carcinogenic chemicals from dryer vents, claims a researcher from the University of Washington.

Anne Steinemann's findings, published in the journal Air Quality, Atmosphere and Health, build on her earlier work that examined what chemicals are released by laundry products, air fresheners, cleaners and other fragranced consumer products. Manufacturers are not required to disclose the ingredients used in fragrances, or in laundry products.

"This is an interesting source of pollution because emissions from dryer vents are essentially unregulated and unmonitored," she said. "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."

For the new study, Steinemann's team first purchased and pre-rinsed new, organic cotton towels. They asked two homeowners to volunteer their washers and dryers, cleaned the inside of the machines with vinegar, and ran full cycles using only water to eliminate as much residue as possible.

At the first home, they ran a regular laundry cycle and analyzed the vent fumes for three cases: once with no products, once with the leading brand of scented liquid laundry detergent, and finally with both the detergent and a leading brand of scented dryer sheets. A canister placed inside the dryer vent opening captured the exhaust 15 minutes into each drying cycle. The researchers then repeated the procedure with a different washer and dryer at a second home.

An analysis of the captured gases found more than 25 volatile organic compounds, including seven hazardous air pollutants, coming out of the vents. Of those, two chemicals - acetaldehyde and benzene - are classified by the EPA as carcinogens, for which the agency has established no safe exposure level.

The researchers estimate that in the Seattle area, where the study was conducted, acetaldehyde emissions from this brand of laundry detergent would be equivalent to 3 percent of the total acetaldehyde emissions coming from automobiles. Emissions from the top five brands, they estimate, would constitute about 6 percent of automobiles' acetaldehyde emissions.

"These products can affect not only personal health, but also public and environmental health. The chemicals can go into the air, down the drain and into water bodies," Steinemann warned.

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Source: University of Washington