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Response to a Scott Ostler column

21 Aug 1998

Dear Mr. Ostler,

I was so sorry to see you give coverage to the "launching" of Wilkes Bashford's new cologne. This is rather like covering the debut of a new cigarette. I know the fragrance industry is a big advertiser in your paper and others, but, please, spare us the free publicity for these merchants of death!

Do I exaggerate?

Not at all. Fragrance products are just beginning to be recognized for the toxic products they are. People all over this country are experiencing asthma attacks and other respiratory damage, as well as central nervous system damage and other disorders, upon exposure to fragrances. People are loosing their jobs, their health, their credibility, and sometimes even their friends and families over this issue. As the president of the Environmental Health Network, I've talked with dozens of people who are truly suffering from this problem. Other activists who have a longer history of involvment, have talked with thousands!

How can this be?

Fragrance products and "air fresheners" (another toxic product) are everywhere. Their public use constitutes a real barrier and a true hazard for anyone who has come to experience health problems from exposure to them. The manufacturing of perfumes and colognes is unregulated. The manufacturers can put anything into them, and do! You have a small child--believe me, you don't want that little person subjected to the fumes that these products emit. Some of the exact same ingredients used in perfumes are used automotive lacquers--and with automotive lacquers, you at least get a "material safety data sheet" and suggestions on how to minimize your exposure (wear respirators, etc), and what health problems to expect if you are over-exposed. Funny how the occupational doctors take solvent exposure seriously when they happen in industrial settings--but most doctors still don't understand the extent and seriousness of this problem! (Now I have to wear a respirator to the ballet and sometimes even to "Tiny Tots" program that I take my son to.)

Most fragrance products contain extremely toxic ingredients--mostly untested and in untested combinations--including benzene compounds (known to cause cancer and leukemia), and other petrochemicals which are known to cause central nervous system, respiratory, liver and reproductive damage. Some are actual narcotics, some are on the EPA hazardous waste list. Butyric acid, which was recently in the news as the substance used in terrorist attacks on several abortion clinics, is a common fragrance ingredient. People exposed during those attacks are still suffering from the effects of chemical poisoning. And it doesn't take much!

Please check out the website called Fragranced Products Information Network, and especially that part of the site which shows the ingredients of two very popular fragrances (unnamed at this point): These fragrances were analyzed via gas chromotography and mass spectometry, the chemist is apparently preparing a report due this fall.

You can also find in the March/April issue of Archives of Environmental Health, the peer-reviewed study called Acute Toxic Effects of Fragrance Products by Rosalind and Julius Anderson of Anderson Labs Call Anderson Labs at (802)295-7648 for a copy of their study ($10). This is not the first study done, others have also identified the ingredients in common fragrance products as neurotoxins, etc.

Please, as a responsible journalist, look into this issue. You will be surprised by what you find. And please do not encourage these people--even if our good mayor himself "bathes" in the stuff!!!

Thank you,

Amy Marsh

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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