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Australian researchers find some so-called 'green' and 'organic' products are toxic

Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Some common consumer products, including those marked as “green”, “all-natural”, “non-toxic” and “organic”, emit a range of compounds which could harm human health and air quality, a study has found.

And a University of Melbourne researcher says most of these ingredients are not disclosed to the public.

Anne Steinemann, Professor of Civil Engineering and the Chair of Sustainable Cities, is a world expert on environmental pollutants, air quality and health effects.

She investigated and compared volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted from 37 different products, such as air fresheners, cleaning products, laundry supplies and personal care products, including those with certifications and claims of “green” and “organic”. Both fragranced and fragrance-free products were tested.

The study, published in the journal Air Quality, Atmosphere and Health, found 156 different volatile organic compounds emitted from the 37 products, with an average of 15 per product.

Of these 156 volatile organic compounds, 42 are classified as toxic or hazardous under US federal laws and each product emitted at least one of these chemicals.

Findings revealed that emissions of carcinogenic hazardous air pollutants from “green” fragranced products were not significantly different from regular fragranced products.

In total, over 550 volatile ingredients were emitted from these products, but fewer than 3% were disclosed on any product label or material safety data sheet (MSDS).

“The paradox is that most of our exposure to air pollutants occurs indoors and a primary source is consumer products. But the public lacks full and accurate information on the ingredients in these products. Our indoor air environments are essentially unregulated and unmonitored,” Professor Steinemann said.

The most common chemicals in fragranced products were terpenes, which were not in fragrance-free versions. Terpenes readily react with ozone in air to generate a range of additional pollutants, such as formaldehyde and ultrafine particles.

Consumer products sold in Australia, the US and around the world are not required to list all ingredients or any ingredients in a chemical mixture called “fragrance”.

“Given the lack of information, consumers may choose products with claims such as green, natural, or organic, but those claims are largely untested,” Professor Steinemann said.

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