Even sweet scents can be dangerous to your health
By Diane Koerner
Wednesday, February 3, 2010 11:42 AM HST
The whopping 17 percent of Hawaii's population (200,000 individuals) who suffer from asthma can applaud recent efforts by retailers like Island Naturals, which put incense and other strong fragrances under the counter at its new store in Hilo.
Not only asthma, but allergies, multiple chemical sensitivities, headaches, dizziness and other physical maladies can be triggered by fragrances, even organic ones. According to the American with Disabilities Act, many people are finding that fragrance is a barrier to accessing stores, work, medical buildings and transportation.
Over 15 million Americans have been diagnosed with asthma, with 72 percent of them stating that their attacks are directly related to fragrances, said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
One shopper wearing a mask in a local health food store said, "I only buy organic food. It's difficult for me, as a person with asthma, since many health food stores are typically filled with the scent of incense. I risk serious health
consequences when I enter these stores, but they are the only places that carry all the products I need. I like to support local businesses, but I often resort to ordering organic food and vitamins online so they'll arrive without the added fragrance they pick up in the local store."
Even when someone else shops for a person with allergies or asthma, the lingering fragrance from products like incense,
essential oil samplers or aromatic candles can make the affected person ill while imparting unnatural smells to what are supposed to be natural foods.
"We have tried to keep strong scents under glass or out of the new Hilo store," said Russell Ruderman, founder and owner of Island Naturals, in an effort to make organic, healthy food choices more accessible to all customers. "I share their concerns as I cannot be around strong scents myself," he said. "We carry a small amount of incense, in packages in our Housewares section, which is in the very back of store. My plan is to enclose these items in a display case."
Should you care about secondhand scents if you don't have asthma or allergies? Yes. The EPA has found numerous chemicals in popular fragrance products, but does nothing to regulate them. One individual fragrance may contain hundreds of synthetic chemicals, known to be toxins and sensitizers which can cause cancer, birth defects, central nervous system disorders and allergic reactions, just to name a few disorders.
According to Sheryl Eisenberg with the National Resources Defense Council, fragrance products need not be cleared for
safety before going to market. "Not only doesn't the government require safety testing," said Eisenberg. "It doesn't require that the ingredients in fragrances be identified on product labels. The ingredients are protected as trade secrets. And what about our right to know what chemicals we're exposed to? Trumped, for now, by the fragrance industry."
What can you do when you shop for food and home items? Choose fragrance-free products whenever possible. Ask your
favorite stores and markets, especially those geared to selling "health food products," to keep highly volatile fragrances, like incense, under glass.