People have been eagerly filling their homes with beautiful aromas for thousands of years. Incense and fragrant oils were used as far back as 3100 B.C. in Ancient Egypt. Bouquets of flowers, sachets of dried herbs, fragrant woods, incense, oils — all still popular, so many years later.
But in the last several decades, many of us have traded in our natural, plant-based fragrances for chemical-based, toxic alternatives. These synthetic ‘air fresheners’ are, in reality, nothing more than air polluters, and they’ve flooded the home fragrance market.
Don’t get us wrong. We’re like every other consumer out there — we want to come home to a fresh, beautiful smelling home, too? But not at such a high cost to our health and the environment.
Air freshening sprays often have names like “Joyful Paradise” and “Sparkling Springs” that sound invigorating and natural. But, behind those pristine labels, you’ll find a combination of mild irritants to downright toxic chemical ingredients. One of the most commonly found is galaxolide.
What’s The Problem With Galaxolide?
To create “natural” scents in household cleaning products, manufacturers often rely on the synthetic chemical, galaxolide. The nonprofit Women’s Voices for the Earth recently released a detailed review of the hazards posed by galaxolide, underscoring its toxicity and ability to accumulate in our bodies and ecosystems.
Most notably, the report found rising levels of galaxolide in the Great Lakes.
Galaxolide in Our Environment
“Galaxolide doesn’t break down easily in the environment; it lingers and builds up in the bodies of animals and people,” says Alexandra Scranton, Director of Science and Research at Women’s Voices for the Earth. “It is extremely toxic to aquatic animals, which makes it all the more unnerving when we know that this chemical is ending up in our Great Lakes.”
Because the EPA often does not adequately test the chemicals sold on the U.S. market, Women’s Voices for the Earth and Michigan Clean Water Action shouldered the responsibility of reviewing galaxolide.
Women’s Voices assessed galaxolide with GreenScreen, an internationally recognized tool for evaluating and comparing the hazards of chemicals. Galaxolide received a score of Benchmark 1—a grade assigned to chemicals of highest concern—due to its bioaccumulative properties and aquatic toxicity.
While galaxolide typically enters our bodies directly through inhalation or skin absorption, our exposure also increases as the chemical builds up in the water supply. Products containing galaxolide drain into wastewater, pass easily through water treatment plants, and, eventually, spill into waterways like the Great Lakes.
- One study of the Great Lakes tributaries that flow through urban areas found galaxolide in 81 percent of water samples.
- Another detected galaxolide in 92 percent of water samples from Lake Michigan and even found concentrations of the chemical in the air above the lake.
- On Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, a third study found that galaxolide levels in the lake sediment are doubling every eight to 16 years.
Galaxolide In Our Bodies
The presence of galaxolide in drinking water raises serious concerns about its health effects on humans. Galaxolide is an endocrine disruptor, meaning that it interferes with hormones and other chemical signals. This can result in developmental, reproductive, metabolic, brain and behavior problems. Emerging science indicates that humans accumulate galaxolide in every part of the body.
The New York State Department of Health and State University of New York at Albany found galaxolide present in 97 percent of breast milk samples in a 2007 study of new mothers.
A 2009 study in Austria detected galaxolide in the blood plasma of 91 percent of participants; those who used scented lotions and perfumes had significantly higher levels of galaxolide than those who did not.
Although galaxolide use has been on the decline for years in Europe, use of the chemical has been steadily increasing in the United States over the past 30 years.
New York Tries To Enforce Transparency
In 2009, Earthjustice took Procter & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive and other household cleaner manufacturing giants to court for refusing to follow New York state regulations requiring them to disclose the chemical ingredients in their products and the health risks they pose.
Unlike the rest of the U.S., New York requires that household cleaner companies selling products in the state file semi-annual reports which list the chemicals contained in their products. These reports must also describe any company research on the health and environmental effects of their cleaning product ingredients. However, most companies have long ignored the rule, failing to file a single report in the three decades since it was passed in 1985.
Since then, the state of New York has been working on a new system for corporate disclosure of chemicals in household products. A coalition of 42 public interest groups applauded the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s effort.
The coalition urged the agency to require companies to disclose any chemicals that cause nerve damage or hormone disruption. The agency still has not announced when companies will be required to file this information but says it is committed to making this information easily accessible to consumers.
Consumers Will Have to Lead the Way
While the action around this legislation is a step forward, consumers remain largely on their own when it comes to finding products that don’t contain galaxolide. Luckily, Women’s Voices for the Earth is helping to clear the air by compiling a growing list of products that contain galaxolide for the public.
Monica Leonard who founded Molly’s Suds is a consumer just like you. Through research, she learned about the hazards of household cleaners and detergents and decided to create a line of products that are Always Safe for People and the Planet. You can read her whole story here.
Changing the way our government and businesses handle toxins in our household products will take time. But thankfully, there are natural cleaning alternatives being created every day. (We are certainly keeping busy creating new, safe household cleaning alternatives for you!) By making the choice to use safe, non-toxic cleaners, you’re using your money to cast a vote on how we want to build the future of America.
Be sure to check out our DIY page for natural alternatives to many household cleaners – we update it often! You can also join us in the fold by subscribing to our newsletter to get notified when new DIY’s are published, new products are released, sales on Molly’s Suds products, and more!