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The Halifax Story

Letter addressed to NPR staff at,

31 July 1999

Dear Mr. Simon:

It has come to my attention that you made considerable fun of The Wall Street Journal's story, "A City Smells Perfume and Holds Its Nose."

I know people make fun of things they do not understand. Therefore, let me enlighten you and NPR as to reasons why people are holding their nose and breath when encountering perfume not only in Halifax, but around the world. Peoples' health and livelihoods are at stake here and therefore this is no laughing matter. Those of us who suffer daily from the toxic effects of perfume understand it all too well.

The health effects of fragrances are a general health issue, an indoor air quality issue, an access issue, and an environmental issue. Unfortunately, the only issue the fragrance industry has addressed is that of skin safety for the user of the products.

These odors are not just obnoxious as some people may think of them. They are toxic volatilizing organic compounds (VOCs), capable of making people ill whether or not they or their doctors recognize this fact.

Fragrances are nothing more than thousands of petrochemicals combined into what that particular manufacturer has chosen to label "perfume." Many contain 200 chemicals or more. Fragrances trigger or exacerbate asthma, migraine headaches, sinusitis, laryngitis, central nervous system (CNS) disorders, chronic pain in the form of muscle pain and joint aches, including the many chronic symptoms of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Both the American Lung Association (ALA) and the American Medical Association have listed on their web sites that fragrances trigger asthma. See: and AMA:

If these chemicals were used in products other than fragrances and personal care products, they would carry warnings: DO NOT INHALE, WEAR GOGGLES, AND WASH OFF SKIN IMMEDIATELY. So should these products carry these warnings. Why do they not? Because the ingredients in fragrances are manufactured by an unregulated industry and are considered by the industry as "trade secrets."

However, in this day and age these trade secrets can be found out using expensive tests and because of this an organization was able to determine just what was in two perfumes. One of those perfumes was Calvin Klein's "Eternity." This perfume was chosen because more people complained about it causing them health problems than any other. Using the results of these tests the Environmental Health Network petitioned the FDA to declare "Eternity" labeled "misbranded." The basis of this petition is the lack of a warning label on the product informing consumers that all the materials in the product, and the final product itself, have not been adequately tested for safety.

In 1986, the National Academy of Sciences targeted fragrances as one of the six categories of chemicals that should be given high priority for neurotoxicity testing. The report also states that 95 percent of the chemicals used in fragrances are synthetic compounds derived from petroleum, including benzene derivatives, aldehydes and other known toxics and sensitizers capable of causing cancer, birth defects, central nervous system disorders and allergic reactions. (Report by the Committee on Science and Technology, U.S. House of Representatives, Sept. 16, 1986; Report 99-827)

In 1991, the EPA published its report: Identification of Polar VolatileOrganic Compounds in Consumer Products and Common Microenvironments, Lance Wallace, U.S. EPA, Warrenton VA; William C. Nelson, US EPA, Research Triangle Park, NC; Edo Pellizzari, James H. Raymer, Kent W. Thomas, Research Triangle Institute, Research Triangle Park, NC; March 1991. Paper #A312 to be submitted for presentation at the 1991 Annual Meeting of theAWMA. (EPA/600/D-91/074) It was upon this work that Julia Kendall (1935 - 1997) based her work, compiling the chemicals listed and comparing them with Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) to produce her flyer, "Twenty Most Common Chemicals Found in Thirty-One Fragrance Products." Through Julia's efforts, people around the world had their first glimmer of hope that there was indeed a reason for their chemical sensitivity and that the chemical fragrance products had a lot to do with their ills -- just as they knew, and despite what they heard from mainstream medical doctors.

Millions of people are made sick every day by perfumes. The trick is to know just which of the 5,000 or so chemicals used in making fragrance products are the ones you want to look up on MSDS. And the reason none of us, including our doctors, can know that crucial piece of information is that the industry is protected by outmoded trade secret laws. This protection of the fragrance industry should come to an end because the "secret" information can be made available by laboratory analysis, as noted above. To substantiate my belief that trade secret laws for the fragrance industry are outmoded, let's look to OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), especially number 6, below --

    " 'Secrecy.' The subject matter of a trade secret must be secret. Matters of public knowledge or of general knowledge in an industry cannot be appropriated by one as his secret. . . . Nevertheless, a substantial element of secrecy must exist, so that, except by the use of improper means, there would be difficulty in acquiring the information. An exact definition of a trade secret is not possible. Some factors to be considered in determining whether given information is one's trade secret are:
    (1) The extent to which the information is known outside of his business;
    (2) the extent to which it is known by employees and others involved in his business;
    (3) the extent of measures taken by him to guard the secrecy of the information;
    (4) the value of the information to him and his competitors;
    (5) the amount of effort or money expended by him in developing the information;
    (6) the ease or difficulty with which the information could be properly acquired or duplicated by others."

Finally, I and numerous others like me have lost our jobs time and time again because employers continually refuse to provide us a place to work that is safe from the ill effects of fragrances. No wonder Halifax has gone fragrance free. Why do Americans have this obsession with protecting peoples' rights to wear perfumes over the rights of those of us whose health is being destroyed by the polluted air we are forced to breathe in the workplace. Co-workers, management, officials, mainstream medical doctors, family members, and even the legal system are disinclined to take a request for fragrance-free accommodation seriously because there are no warnings on fragrance products. That, plus fragrance has been promoted as necessary to our health, wealth and sexiness (like cigarette advertising in the past) are the primary reasons. Further we are obsessed with our individual "rights." I thought the right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness was what the Constitution upheld, not the right to put toxic chemicals in the name of "Fragrance" into the air that everyone must breathe.

There is a wealth of documented research available to inform people that they can to do something about environmental issues that can improve their health. For a good start, go to Environmental Health Network web page: and Fragranced Products Information Network at

I sincerely hope you will consider a forum at NPR for acknowledging this as a serious health issue.


Betty Kreeger

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The Environmental Health Network (EHN) [of California] is a 501 (c) (3) non profit agency and offers support and information for the chemically injured. EHN brings you topics on this page that need your immediate attention The URL for this page is