WEB DESK: Lots of people use air fresheners and body sprays – almost all of which contain what the ingredients listing coyly describes as “perfume”.
The levels of perfume chemicals are regulated inside products, but what we then do with those products is entirely up to us. No one measures air quality inside our houses. Prof Alastair Lewis of the National Centre for Atmospheric Science at the University of York and the team from Trust Me, I’m a Doctor set out to do just that.
Firstly he measured the levels of a whole range of “volatile organic chemicals” (VOCs) in six similar, modern houses in New York over the course of five days.
That in itself is no cause for panic. Limonene is not a chemical that poses a big hazard to health – in fact it is also used as a flavouring in foods. However, once sprayed into our houses, it doesn’t stay as limonene for long- every two molecules of limonene could produce one molecule of another chemical, formaldehyde.
It seems that while enjoying the aroma of fragranced candles, plug-ins, air fresheners and cleaning products we are increasing our exposure to a serious nasty.
But the researcher found a solution to the problem. The plants help absorb the toxic formaldehyde.
To put the practicality of this solution to the test, each house in the study took in four specially chosen houseplants for six weeks, while Prof Lewis continued to record the levels of both limonene and formaldehyde.
Over those four weeks, the levels of limonene in all six houses rose – probably because over those week’s winter truly set in. Doors and windows were closed, and scented candles came out – pushing limonene in one house up to the highest levels Prof Lewis had ever recorded.
The house plants were clearly not having a significant effect on limonene levels. But then came the formaldehyde readings. In all three houses measured, while the limonene levels went up, the formaldehyde levels came down.