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Scented laundry products emit hazardous chemicals through dryer vents

By PCN Staff

Anne Steinemann, the University of Washington researcher who used chemical sleuthing to deduce what’s in fragranced consumer products now has turned her attention to the scented air wafting from household laundry vents.

Her findings, published online in the journal Air Quality, Atmosphere and Health, show that air vented from machines using the top-selling scented liquid laundry detergent and scented dryer sheet contains hazardous chemicals, including two that are classified as carcinogens.

“… emissions from dryer vents are essentially unregulated and unmonitored,” said lead author Anne Steinemann,, “If they’re coming out of a smokestack or tail pipe, they’re regulated, but if they’re coming out of a dryer vent, they’re not.”

Manufacturers are not required to disclose the ingredients used in fragrances, or in laundry products.

For the study, researchers first purchased and pre-rinsed new, organic cotton towels. They asked two homeowners to volunteer their washers and dryers, cleaned the inside of the machines with vinegar, and ran full cycles using only water to eliminate as much residue as possible.

At the first home, they ran a regular laundry cycle and analyzed the vent fumes for three cases: once with no products, once with the leading brand of scented liquid laundry detergent, and finally with both the detergent and a leading brand of scented dryer sheets. A canister placed inside the dryer vent opening captured the exhaust 15 minutes into each drying cycle.

Researchers then repeated the procedure with a different washer and dryer at a second home.

Analysis of the captured gases found more than 25 volatile organic compounds, including seven hazardous air pollutants, coming out of the vents. Of those, two chemicals – acetaldehyde and benzene – are classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as carcinogens, for which the agency has established no safe exposure level.

An easy way to reduce such emissions is to use laundry products without any fragrance or scent.

For more information, contact Steinemann by email. To download the Stenemann, Gallagher, Davis and MacGregor study, click here.

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