Perfumed children

Developing brains and bodies are especially vulnerable. Numerous perfume chemicals readily cross the placental barrier, so children are being exposed even before they are born. Breast milk is another source of exposure.

Women’s urine levels of phthalates - chemicals commonly used in perfume mixtures including laundry perfumes - have been linked with genital abnormalities in their infant sons. These include undersized penises and scrotums and undescended testicles (Swan et al., 2005).

It has been found that children’s exposure to polluting volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can be greater indoors than outside (Adgate et al., 2004). Common sources include household cleaners, room deodorisers, toilet bowl blocks, moth repellents and perfumes. There is evidence that household chemicals are contributing to the increase in childhood asthma (Sherriff, 2004).

Research reported in 2003 found that infants suffered more frequent diarrhoea and earache in households where there was heavier use of air ‘fresheners’, and more frequent diarrhoea and vomiting where there was more use of aerosols (Farrow et al., 2003).

The public has been persuaded by commercial interests to fill their homes with pollutants which may be harmful as those from vehicle exhaust. Indeed, at least one of the chemicals studied for this article is also found in diesel exhaust – perhaps not surprising in light of the fact that the vast majority are made from petrochemicals.

Vast numbers of children are growing up in a toxic chemical fog – inside homes, schools and even doctors’ surgeries and hospitals – places where people are supposed to be healed, not harmed.