Barb Wilkie's EHN Website
Last updated 2008

EHN Board President Barb Wilkie was very ill from chemically-induced kidney disease for several years. She passed away May 31, 2011. EHN presents this site both as a tribute and as valuable information. Many links and references will be out of date but Barb's research holds up over time. We will be transferring the site page by page, with updated details, to EHN's main site. If you would like to reach an EHN staff person, please contact us directly.


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Dr. Dean, At Last You've Got IT! ...

... At Least Where Air "Fresheners" Are Concerned



By Barb Wilkie

Air fresheners are harmful, agrees Dean Edell, MD in his commentary, Air Fresheners Really Air Polluters,

Such a misnomer: Air freshener.

So when will Dr. Dean, come to realize that perfumes and colognes are also harmful? Harmful secondhand, just like air "fresheners." Just like air "fresheners" they contain toxic fragrance chemicals. Just like air "fresheners" they are volatile organic compounds (VOCs). See NIEHS (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences) and their "Common Indoor Air Pollutants" at

With personal care fragrances, unlike air fresherners, people are encouraged to put those toxic chemical products right on their skin. The fragrance chemicals go through the skin, into the blood system to target organs and store in adipose (fatty) tissue.

Hmmmmm, with the new spritzing type of air polluter used in some public restrooms, you may even get some "freshener" on your skin, as well as into your system through inhalation. The toxic chemical polluting circle is closing in.

A person really doesn't need to inhale only air "fresheners" to experience adverse effects upon health. One can accomplish much the same in negative impacts on health by inhaling the fragranced personal care and cleaning/ maintenance products used by self, as well as those used by others. The glaring difference is that in inhaling the superfluous toxins from an air freshener one is now inhaling an acknowledged "potential harm" -- even if the warning is directed at those living with "respiratory problems."

The crucial information not given in Dr. Dean's article is that that potential harm extends beyond just those with current respiratory problems. Who knows when that last inhalation of air "freshener" -- or other synthetic scented product -- will be one's first experience in living with chemical injury?

As Edell writes about air fresheners:

    "But the real potential for harm is to people with asthma and other breathing problems. Experts say anyone with respiratory problems may want to avoid most air fresheners. Best advice? Try a little baking soda in the cat box or garbage can, otherwise maybe open a window and let the fresh air in."
"[A]void most air 'fresheners'." Excellent advice for use in one's own home. How, pray tell, can one "avoid" air fresheners and other synthetic scented products in schools, workplaces, healthcare facilities, houses of worship, in friend's homes, in public restrooms, on public transit, in rental cars, in hotels? Heavens, some hotels pridefully pump those pollutants through their ventilation system. Others greet you with a blast of pesticide/air freshener as you enter their establishment.

It is ludicrous to seriously suggest people can avoid breathing synthetic scents, be they in air "fresheners" or any other scented product.

And now, how can one possibly avoid those new-fangled, spritzing air fresheners that are coming into vogue in some public restrooms? And to broaden my query: How can one avoid the spritzing devices that emit fragrances, disinfectants and/or pesticides as you enter a building? (See EHN's Alert, Spritzing Air Polluters!.)

But deeper questions are:

  • Where, oh where, is the concern about keeping others from getting ill? Fragrances trigger AND cause asthma.

  • Why think only in terms of those of us already suffering "respiratory problems"?

  • Why limit advice to air "fresheners" when all synthetic fragrances are recognized as air pollutants?

  • Why limit concern to only those suffering respiratory problems, when people living with various environmental illnesses would do well to avoid all synthetic fragrance products, including those used by others! IF they but could!

Sadly, the fact of the matter is: No doctor, no Food and Drug Administration agent, no person knows enough about the chemicals used to formulate fragrances. The information about the chemicals used is protected by trade secret laws. That information can be gotten via analysis, but what individual can afford to have his/her favorite fragrances analyzed? And then, for what? To check out the chemical on Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) to learn, "The chemical, physical, and toxicological properties have not been thoroughly investigated." See an analysis from the petition before the FDA

No one should be too smug about his/her body's ability to handle all of the superfluous toxins now in our air, water, food, workplaces, homes, schools, healthcare facilities, places of worship, government offices, public transit, parks, playgrounds, ...

None of us can predict just when our own "toxic overload" will strike us. Why is it we don't error on the side of caution? We all should follow the lead of the Sierra Club, San Francisco Bay Chapter's Conservation and Executive committees and work toward a reduction in the excessive use of fragrances -- personal care and cleaning/maintenance products -- in public places. See

The problem with VOCs is: VOCs aren't easily avoided, especially in public areas. You can even be in your own home and be accosted by wafting fabric softeners from a neighbor's laundry, leaking scent strips contaminating all mail, money handled by the flagrantly-fragrant, groceries bagged by a heavily-scented individual, ...

VOCs become the very air that EVERYONE breathes. Regardless of underlying health condition. Sooner or later, these chemicals will take their toll. How? Your own body will determine that, depending in large part on your toxic loads from your past -- including your time in utero. Your body can also be affected by your present circumstances -- are synthetic fragrances the norm in your workplace? How about pesticides? . . .

Your future also holds questions: Will you be in the path of a refinery blowout? Suffer serious smoke inhalation? Have to undergo surgery and become chemically sensitive because of anesthesia, drugs, and the highly scented and pesticided hospital environment?

Also, to be considered is the type and frequency of exposure. But most likely, regardless of the cause of the toxic overload, your body will let you know. Perhaps your body will react by developing asthma, or one of the many cancers. Perhaps you'll develop Parkinson's ... Perhaps you will have an unmistakeable cross over into the world of living with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS). Perhaps, you'll gradually enter the world of living with chemical injury. Your first hint may be something so seemingly innocuous as "adult on-set acne." Or, recurrent cold- and/or flu-like symptoms.

Will you listen to your body? Will your doctor be astute enough to recognize a telltale sign like skin eruptions? (Yes, "adult on-set acne" could be an early warning sign, and you do not have to use fragrances to have your skin adversely affected by them!) Our skin, our largest organ, can provide an early clue. Happened to me. Doc said, as part of his diagnosis: "Stop eating potato chips and drinking Pepsi." I had done neither ... still don't. Don't like the stuff -- tasted to me like kerosene smells. He is no longer my doctor. Now I know that my "zits" are one of my first signs of toxic exposure to another person's "signature scent." One of my daughters gets eczema ... skin worsens when others around her are wearing fragrances or using scented cleaners. Neither of us use fragrances. We don't have to. Fragrances are in the air, everywhere. And our bodies warn us.

Other signs are: recurring colds and flus, rhinitis, tinnitus, chronic sinus infections, headaches, dizziness, aphasia, asthma, chronic fatigue, muscle pain and joint aches, ...non-healing open wounds. In my case, those sores that lasted for at least six months were caused by another fragranced product: Pesticide. Pyrethroids, to be exact. The culprit may be insideous, but eventually the body lets you know: Out loud. Enough IS Enough!

But by that time, you may already be living with MCS. As we unexpectedly meet the plethora of toxics, sensitizers, irritants and possible carcinogens in modern, commonly used products, we are encountering Multitudinous Chemical Substances. Over time we suffer Many Chronic Symptoms. Mainstream doctors who are not aware of EI/MCS, try to treat with drugs -- often first one, then another; too often by whipping off a prescription for Prozac or similar drug. Of course, drugs are adding even More Chemical Stuff to the body.

To the open, exploring mind, MCS is not difficult to fathom -- especially when that open, exploring mind realizes the adverse effects our modern synthetic chemical fragrance products have upon the Central Nervous System.

Chemical injury is a public health nightmare -- and it is only going to get worse if the mainstream medical industry prefers to follow the party line of the chemical industry rather than listen to their patients. It's an economic burden for employers, for public health. For the people living with chemical injury, it's a series of chronic illnesses and pain at best and a life-death struggle, hastening us to a too-early death, at worst. But one thing for sure: It's a pharmacological bonanza!

It is past time to bring real freshness to the topic of chemical injury/sensitivity. Acknowledging that air "fresheners" are really air POLLUTERS is a start. Let's take that next step in logical thought: Synthetic fragrance products are air polluters. They cause indoor air pollution, which causes chronic health problems, which ultimately cause access problems. They even cause outdoor air pollution. Highly scented individuals leave noxious vapor trails wherever they go, indoors or out. Along city blocks, the beach, trails in the woods. You can't mistake an odorovector. Another factor in scented outdoor air pollution are scented laundry products . . . especially fabric softeners. If you, too, have HAD IT! with the pollution of your ambient air by fabric softeners outgassing, please inform the Consumers Products Safety Commission. Visit their site, Report Unsafe Products at You may also want to inform your state and local Air Resources Boards. In California, fabric softeners aren't even a blip on their radar screen. Considering the complaints EHN receives, that's hard to fathom. So, let's wake up CARB. Call their Hotline: (800) 952-5588.

(If you'd like to read of my expreience with my local board, see It's Personal! at

Yes, chemically injured/diaabled people are protected under the ADA. We DO have a right to access. For more on that topic, please see EHN's section on Access at And by all means, visit the site of the US Access Board and their July 2000 "... Policy to Promote Fragrance-Free Environments" at

Let's clear the air. Now!

# # #

(See EHN petitions the FDA to declare Eternity "misbranded" at: Included are analyses and information on the page of the product label.

(Views expressed above reflect only the opinion of Barbara Wilkie and do not
reflect the views of any other individual or organization, including EHN. -- barb)


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