PORTLAND, Ore. – The sweet smell of candles or air fresheners make many American homes smell nice, but do you know all the chemicals that can be found in the fragrances? According to indoor air quality experts at the Oregon Environmental Council, some of those chemicals could have a wide-range of health effects.
Just ask Portland resident Ashley Henry. You won’t find any candles or scented products in her house today, but that wasn’t the case a year ago.
“I was a big fan of scented candles, but I had to eliminate use of those,” she said.
Henry developed asthma last spring. After the onset, she became hyper-sensitive to fragrances and other chemicals in her home.
“It was a burning sensation,” she said.
Scented candles, perfume, even scented shampoo and soap would set off her asthma.
Henry said these things exacerbated her relatively serious medical problem, but according to Jen Coleman at the Oregon Environmental Council, so-called “indoor air pollution” can cause a range of problems.
“Sometimes it can just be a matter of a little bit of a cough and itchy eyes and you don’t know why,” Coleman said. “That can be an air quality problem.”
If smells linger in your house, Coleman recommends you avoid masking the smells with fragrance. Instead, try to increase circulation in your home.
That doesn’t mean you have to run out and buy expensive fans or other contraptions. It can be as simple as opening a window or two for just five minutes a day.
If it’s too cold or rainy to open a window, or maybe you live on a noisy street, try running your bathroom or kitchen fan for a few extra minutes. That’s enough to get a little air moving in your house and help clear the air.
Many candles and scented products also contain chemicals that companies aren’t required to disclose on the label. A recent check of the candle aisle at a Portland grocery store didn’t turn up one scented candle that listed ingredients.
Some labels simply list “fragrance” as an ingredient without giving any specifics. Coleman said there can be hundreds of chemicals that go into scented candles that consumers don’t know about.
She said some contain chemicals called “phthalates”, which helps smells linger. The Environmental Protection Agency reported there is evidence that phthalates cause birth defects and reproductive problems. A 2007 study found many Oregonians have been exposed to the chemical.
“I used to think that people who complained about fragrances were a little bit cuckoo,” Henry said. “Now I’m finding a lot of friends who have the same issues.”