Extra! Extra! Extra! The Washington Post on How the “Growing Stink” of Fragrance in Consumer Products is Driving Workers Out of the Workplace

Garnering national attention, Elizabeth Leamy of the Washington Post  wrote yesterday that there is a ‘growing stink’ regarding the increasingly common use of unnecessary scents in everyday products – from garbage bags to tissues – that has led to over 1 in 3 Americans experiencing health problems when exposed to these high levels of scented products (i.e. toxic chemicals). Leamy cites the  2016 study by Anne Steinemann, Ph.D on the indoor air polluting effects of fragranced consumer products. Dr. Steinemann’s work has been referenced many times on this site, and her work is known worldwide.

iStock-845062486Photo Credit: iStock

Leamy also quotes Alison Johnson, Founder and Chair of the Chemical Sensitivity Foundation – the same foundation where primary author/blogger Varda Burstyn is a board member – about the effects that consumer fragrances (e.g. air fresheners, scented laundry products/soaps, cleaning products, etc.) are having on the workplace. And as we pointed out in our blog , with the 300% increase in diagnosed Multiple Chemical Sensitivity in the U.S., there is a growing number of people who have adverse, and potentially life-threatening reactions to these scented consumer products.

Alison Johnson told the Washington Post:  “The people who suffer the most from fragrances are those with multiple chemical sensitivity, or MCS. Fragrances rank high among the chemical exposures I find problematic. …One thing that alarms me is that in the last few years, the phone calls and emails I’m receiving are now predominantly from people in a panic because exposure to fragrances in the workplace is making it impossible for them to keep a job.”


As a person who, like 25% of Americans, feels sick herself when exposed to most fragranced products, Elizabeth Leamy’s message was in tune with Steinemann and Johnson’s: chemical exposures are driving people out of the workplace in droves, and without proper recognition of the problem, there will never be a solution. As a point of reference for how scent/chemical sensitivity is known to affect workplace safety, the article notes the following from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety:

“The Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety lists the following possible symptoms of exposure to fragrances: “headaches, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, weakness, insomnia, numbness, upper respiratory symptoms, shortness of breath, skin irritation, malaise, confusion and difficulty with concentration.”

The article then dives into the chronic labeling confusion between “Unscented” and “Fragrance Free” products. Key note: buy Fragrance Free products, because “scent free” really isn’t. Other recommendations are noted in this article, with various resources – we also invite you to see our Special Needs of the Chemically Sensitive page to learn more.

The WaPo article serves as one of growing number of reminders that the huge contribution of scented consumer products to air pollution, MCS, and general health/environmental decline is a critical topic of health & health promotion, though with little official acknowledgement and even less political action.


* This article was written by the Site Administrator: Jean-Luc Lemery*

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