For years we have all learned the dangers of second-hand smoke. Being exposed to the toxic output of cigarettes is almost as bad as smoking the "cancer sticks" themselves. Second-hand smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, 70 of which can cause cancer. It can cause lung, brain, bladder, throat, stomach and breast cancer in adults. In children, second-hand smoke can cause leukemia, lymphoma, liver cancer, and brain tumors.
Since discovering the terrible effects of second-hand smoke, more and more places have banned smoking from in (or near) their establishments. Companies are making it harder and harder for people to smoke near their business and it's for the best. Why should people who do not choose to smoke be subjected to the same harmful consequences as those who do?
I remember at restaurants you would have the option of "non-smoking" or "smoking" sections. The concept seemed pretty irrelevant. Seating me at a table that's four feet away from the "smoking" section isn't doing a whole lot of good. It's not like the smoke stops drifting once it sees a "non-smoking section" sign. We're all breathing in the same air.
But if you thought second-hand smoke was the only chemical substance polluting our air, you'd be wrong.
How many times have you walked into a room and been assaulted by a fragrance? Whether it's perfume, hairspray, an air freshener, or some other type of artificial sent, these fragrances can overwhelm your senses and cause serious headaches. It may only take a couple of minutes for your nose to start stinging and your head to start throbbing.
The thing is, most of us don't even realize the harm we're causing when we use these fragrances. Perfume isn't seen as something dangerous, neither are air fresheners. But recent studies have shown that the chemicals in fragrances can, in fact, be detrimental to everyone's health.
According to research at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, a chemical component found in fragrances, called phthalates, can be the cause of behavioral issues such as ADD and ADHD. Phthalates have often been focused on when it comes to vinyl and plastic toys, but research is showing that more and more synthetic fragrances also contain the harsh chemical.
Mount Sinai School of Medicine found that pregnant women exposed to phthalates had a 2.5 greater risk of having a child with an attention disorder.
"More phthalates equaled more behavioral problems," Stephanie Engel, lead author of the study, said. "For every increase of exposure, we saw an increase in frequency and severity of the symptoms. There is sufficient evidence to be concerned about phthalates, and it's prudent to reduce exposure as much as possible."
A University of Washington study showed that common laundry detergents also contained hazardous compounds.
"Nearly 100 volatile organic compounds were emitted from these six products, and none were listed on any product label. Plus, five of the six products emitted one or more carcinogenic 'hazardous air pollutants,' which are considered by the Environmental Protection Agency to have no safe exposure level," Anne Steinemann, a UW professor of civil and environmental engineering and public affairs, said.
With the increased pollutants in synthetic fragrences, Steinemann has a couple of suggestions.
"Be careful if you buy products with fragrance, because you really don't know what's in them," she said. "I'd like to see better labeling. In the meantime, I'd recommend that instead of air fresheners people use ventilation, and with laundry products, choose fragrance-free versions."