My guest today is Professor Anne Steinemann, who has for many years been a champion for those sensitive to toxic chemicals in consumer products. She tests everyday consumer products to find out what toxic chemicals are actually present in them, many of which are not listed on labels or MSDS sheets. In this recorded interview from Australia, we talk about toxics she found in both standard and natural/organic products, our rights to toxic free public places, and our power as consumers to change the marketplace. Anne Steinemann is Professor of Civil Engineering and Chair of Sustainable Cities at the University of Melbourne, Australia. She is an internationally recognized expert in areas of engineering and sustainability including environmental pollutants, infrastructure systems, and health. Her recent research addresses indoor air quality, exposure assessment, consumer product analyses, drought planning and forecasting, hazard mitigation, and healthy buildings and communities. She serves as adviser to governments and industries around the world and has directed major federally funded research programs. Her work has resulted in new federal and state legislation, agency policies and industry practices. Professor Steinemann has received the highest teaching awards at the college, university and national levels. She has published over 50 journal articles and two textbooks. Professor Steinemann’s research and journal articles have received significant international media coverage spanning more than 1,000 major newspapers, magazines and broadcast stations across six continents. Dr. Steinemann received her Ph.D. in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Stanford University. www.drsteinemann.com | www.drsteinemann.com/publications.html
TOXIC FREE TALK RADIO
Surprising Hidden Toxics in Consumer Products
Host: Debra Lynn Dadd
Guest: Dr. Anne Steinemann
Date of Broadcast: March 03, 2015
DEBRA: Hi. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. This is Toxic Free Talk Radio where we talk about how to thrive in a toxic world and live toxic-free.
This is a very special and a little bit different show today because usually I do the show live. But today, my guest is Professor Anne Steinemann. She is calling from Melbourne, Australia where if we were to do it live, it would be 2:00 in the morning or something.
So I agreed that we could record it. If it sounds different than usual – and we don’t have our usual ins and outs with the commercials. I don’t know how this is all going to go. But I’m sure we’re going to have a great interview.
I’m so excited to talk to Anne because she really is a pioneer in the work that she does. What she does, I’ll say it simply and then she’ll tell us more scientifically what she does. What she does is she tests consumer products to find out what’s really in them. I want to just keep talking about our subject now, but I’ll wait.
So let’s introduce her, then she and I can talk together. This is Professor Anne Steinemann, Professor of Civil Engineering and Chair of Sustainable Cities at the University of Melbourne, Australia.
She has been internationally recognized in the areas of engineering and sustainability including environmental pollutants and structured systems, health and some other things that are not the topics of the show.
Hi, Anne. Thank you so much for being with us.
DR. ANNE STEINEMANN: Debra, thank you so much. I’m such a big fan of you and your work. I think the website and the work that you do are just extraordinary. You’re the pioneer. You’re really the international leader on this. So thank you so much. I’m thrilled to be on your show.
DEBRA: Thank you. Thank you. So let’s just start out. Before we talk about your study – and actually, I’ve been talking to Anne for a number of years. She’s been writing different studies. She’s been doing different studies and writing papers. She’s just come out with her most recent study.
The whole basic idea of why she does this – I’ll say it and I’ll let her say it – is because there’s a problem. I keep talking about this problem and that is that there isn’t enough disclosure about what’s in products for us to really know what the toxic chemicals are.
And I say this over and over. It’s my work. It would be easy if somebody were to just say, “Here’s the list of ingredients and I can go look them up.” The problem is that we don’t get that list of ingredients as consumers.
So Anne, why don’t you just continue and talk about this?
DR. ANNE STEINEMANN: Thank you so much. I’ll tell you what motivates my work. We know these products have potentially hazardous chemicals in them because people are reporting adverse health effects. The effects can be things from migraine headaches to dizziness to seizures to breathing difficulties to rashes to even losing consciousness. So I really look at the human reports. It really motivates my work.
I started doing this work probably about 25 years ago. I started publishing the studies about a decade ago. I’m trying to figure out what’s in these products that’s making people sick. What is it?
As an engineer and a scientist, I really want to figure it out. If you look at the labels, they typically list a couple of very benign sounding ingredients. And these products that we’re talking about – let me just mention – they’re consumer products, things like air fresheners to deodorizers, hand sanitizers, personal care products, laundry supplies (which includes dryer sheets and fabric softeners and detergents), cleaning products (all sorts of cleaning products from window cleaner or floor cleaner, bath cleaner, multi-purpose cleaners). So these are common consumer products that are used everyday in our homes, our workplaces and our schools.
I was receiving e-mails from people. I have received over 3000 e-mails from people, telling me that they’ve been getting sick from these common products.
So along with this, I’ve also then worked in exposure assessments. So as an engineer, engineers are concerned with pollutants and health. So I was looking at what are the major sources of pollutants as we go through the day.
Well, it turns out it occurs indoors and the primary sources of our exposures are consumer products and building materials. Paradoxically, these are sources that do not need to disclose all their ingredients. This is so ironic because the primary sources of our exposure to toxic chemicals are precisely the sources that don’t need to disclose all their ingredients.
Anyway, that’s what really propelled me into doing these studies. It’s really trying to figure out what’s being emitted from these products that’s causing people to be sick and not just mildly sick, but very seriously ill. These types of effects can be disabling and life-threatening.
These types of products have also caused people with chemical sensitivity a significant hardship. The people can’t go into public places because of the use of air fresheners or scented cleaning products. I have received hundreds upon hundreds of stories that are just tragic stories. It just gets to my heart. People want to go visit their dying parents in the hospital, but they can’t because the hospital uses air fresheners or scented hand sanitizers, things like that. Your listeners know this very well.
So that’s the motivation for the research.
DEBRA: Thank you. I understand that because that’s pretty much my motivation for my research too, because I got sick and I knew other people who are sick.
When I found that I could at least identify as much toxic chemicals so that I can remove them from my home and I started recovering my health, I said, “Wow, if somebody hasn’t told me this, then I was being exposed to toxic chemicals. I wouldn’t be sick if I wasn’t exposed to them” I would have done something. I did recover my health because I eliminated toxic chemicals.
But here’s something very, very important. And that is they do damage. You can remove the toxic chemicals after the effect, but I spent my whole life – even though I’m no longer chemically sensitive. I’m no longer chemically sensitive because I live in a very non-toxic home. But my body is damaged. I’m struggling with the damage that was caused every day.
And we need to not be damaging people’s bodies, people’s health. It should be that everybody gets to live in a safe environment at home and not that we should be exposed to toxic chemicals and then have to recover from that.
DR. ANNE STEINEMANN: Right, exactly. So I think my research is designed to help those people who are of course already sensitized and feel the effects, but also those people who may not be aware what they’re being exposed to. It’s to prevent the next generation of chemically sensitive people and to really try to help people.
I agree with you completely that if we live in a safe environment, people feel great. I’ve seen how if we get rid of the air fresheners, get rid of the scented cleaning products, people recover their health.
DEBRA: They do. They do.
DR. ANNE STEINEMANN: Exactly! If you think from a workplace perspective, economically, it makes so much sense. You can keep people healthy and productive just by removing these products. I mean, what a benefit!
Another reason I did this research was I’m still trying to unravel the mystery of why fragrance products are so problematic. People who are fragrance-sensitive are not necessarily sensitive to natural aromas, things like a banana or something like that, but it’s the synthetic bananas exactly.
So I think there’s a synthetic chemical problem, a petrochemical problem. This is our alert to say, “The human doesn’t feel well with synthetic chemicals. Let’s try to figure out why this is.”
The other issue here is that – for instance, let’s say an employee or just a person is trying to talk to management saying, “Can you please remove the air fresheners from your restrooms?” and the manager says, “Well, I’m looking at the label. This air freshener just says that it’s all organic essential oils. What could be wrong with that?”
But what they don’t realize is first of all, that’s not disclosing all the ingredients. And second of all, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any potentially hazardous chemicals in there.
So I’m also trying to provide evidence for people to claim their rights to fragrance-free places, so they could say, “Well, that’s actually not the case. Believe it or not, these products do not disclose all ingredients. They don’t disclose all the potentially hazardous ingredients.”
DEBRA: Okay. Let’s talk about labeling for a minute before we go into your study. Tell us about how these things are not on the label and also about the MSDS. I’ve been studying your study and you have some very interesting numbers about how few ingredients are actually on the MSDS.
DR. ANNE STEINEMANN: Okay. So here is the situation. There is no law in the U.S. or any other country that requires the disclosure of all ingredients in a consumer product.
Now foods do need to list all their ingredients. However, they don’t need to list ingredients in flavors. That’s a related story to fragrances because flavors and fragrances are essentially the same types of chemicals. But foods do need to disclose all ingredients.
However consumer products – when I say consumer products, I mean things like the air fresheners, the cleaning products, the soaps, the hand sanitizers, the cleaning supplies – they don’t need to disclose all their ingredients. In fact, they can just say “fragrance” instead of disclosing the ingredients in the fragrance.
And one of the problems here is the public risk perception. If you look at a laundry detergent label and it says something “Biodegradable surfactant,” if it was something on the label, you might mistakenly think that’s all the ingredients. “Oh, it just had biological surfactants.” That sounds benign and simple enough. But that’s very misleading because what’s happening is people are looking at – if there’s a couple of ingredients, they think they see all ingredients.
So anyway, back to the regulations. There is no law that requires disclosure of all ingredients of consumer products or any ingredients in a fragrance. So basically, it’s a non-disclosure law on top of another. So that’s the labels.
And the same with material safety data sheet, there is no law that requires the disclosure of all ingredients on the material safety data sheet. Even though it has that box that says to list ingredients, it doesn’t need to list everything.
While the companies are required to test their products for potential hazards, there’s essentially no follow up or monitoring. So it’s a self-regulating process. The chronic problem with material safety data sheets is there’s not really a way to check to make sure they’re accurately disclosing and testing all of their ingredients.
DEBRA: Yeah. My point about material safety data sheets is that I look at them, but I don’t look at them from the viewpoint of saying, “Well, if there is no toxic chemicals listed, then it means that they’re not there.”
I look and I see, “Well, if there are toxic chemicals there, then we really need to pay attention to that. We need to say, “There are toxic chemicals in this product and not use it.”
DR. ANNE STEINEMANN: That’s right.
DEBRA: The problem is on the other side. So we can use MSDS sheets and labels as warnings, but we can’t use the labels of MSDS to say that the product doesn’t contain toxic chemicals.
DR. ANNE STEINEMANN: That’s right.
DEBRA: The only way we know they’re there is because you are testing them.
DR. ANNE STEINEMANN: It can rule a product out, but it can’t rule a product in. If it discloses something, so again, we rule it out, but you can’t rule it in.
One of the other interesting things about toxicity – this is again what I’m trying to investigate – these products are obviously causing hazardous effects because people are getting sick from them.
What does this teach us about toxicity? Well, toxicity is not just individual chemicals even though that’s the way we test and regulate individual chemicals (that’s what I’ve seen), but we have very little information and knowledge on the toxicity of mixtures. So we have synthetic chemicals individually in synthetic mixtures. These are mixtures not known to nature and chemicals not known to nature.
I say the ultimate tests are humans. If humans are having adverse effects, that means there’s something that’s toxic in them.
So I look it the other way around because traditionally the argument is “Well, the levels are within regulatory limits.”
Well, first of all, our indoor air environments aren’t regulated necessary for those chemicals. And the levels, they’re so generous, so you didn’t really say much.
But I look at the other way around, saying, “People are having effects. What are the levels? What should we be regulating for?”
So aside from the individual chemicals is the fact that there are mixtures of chemicals. And then there’s this whole area of secondary pollutants.
The chemicals that I’m going to get into the results of the study in a minute, the most common types of chemicals emitted from fragrance products are things like limonene, alpha-Pinene, beta-Pinene. These are called terpenes. There’s a lot of chemicals called terpenes.
Terpenes can have inherent toxicity and be potentially toxic in and of themselves. But then when they react with ozone in the air, which is readily available in the air, they immediately generate a range of secondary pollutants. It can be even worse – things like formaldehyde, acetaldehyde and ultrafine particles.
So in a way, you have a class of chemicals that may have toxicities. But then they react with air and they generate this whole host of additional types of pollutants.
So again, we’re really trying to investigate what is it that might be causing these effects are the mixtures. But again, I think taking a chemical-by-chemical approach to regulation isn’t really going to be – that misses the bigger picture. And I think maybe probably the bigger picture is the petrochemical problem, the synthetic chemical problem.
DEBRA: Many years ago, when I first started researching – I wish I had a copy of this study. I couldn’t find it. I remember in one of my early books, I wrote about a study they did on rats where they were studying different food additives.
When they gave the rats one food additive or a color – I think it was food color – then nothing happened. And then they gave the rats two food additives and they got sick. And then they gave them three food additives and they all died.
DR. ANNE STEINEMANN: That’s very interesting.
DEBRA: Yeah. I mean, I’ve never seen a test like that, but that’s the way we should be testing. None of us are being exposed to formaldehyde in isolation and with the other chemicals.
So you could look at – you’re going to tell us about what you found in these consumer products – a mixture. But we’re not just using one consumer product. We’re using 2 or 3 or 4 or 10. And then we’re going and sleeping in a bed, we’re putting on clothes, we’re going out driving our cars and we’re exposed to so many chemicals that you can’t ever really evaluate in a lab or in a study what those things are together.
And then you have all the different factors of what makes somebody be able to tolerate those or not tolerate those – your age and the condition of your body and how much you’re being exposed to it and how often you’re being exposed to it. All these factors, you can’t calculate it.
So my approach has always been to find whatever toxic and just eliminate it. The fewer toxic chemicals that we can have in our lives, the better off we’re going to be.
DR. ANNE STEINEMANN: Right! I think the humans are the ultimate integrator. Human canaries understand the effects of these products. We may not be able to identify certain bad actors. But collectively, if people are reacting to it, there’s something going on. We really have to listen to people.
DEBRA: That’s really true.
DR. ANNE STEINEMANN: Yeah, absolutely. I like to use a… I’m conscious of the time. I want to let people know where to get a copy of the article if they’d like one.
If you Google my name, Anne Steinemann, you’ll come up with my website. It has a lot of my publications on it that are relevant to this topic. Just click on Publications and it’s the first one in the list. You can get the full article with all of the data. www.drsteinemann.com, www.drsteinemann.com/publications.html
Debra, I don’t know if it’s posted on your site as well.
DEBRA: Actually, I will have it on my site. People can go to Toxic Free Talk Radio. It will be in the description of this show. I’ll have your links.
DR. ANNE STEINEMANN: Excellent! That’s very helpful. Thank you.
Yeah. There are I guess two main piece of law, the results of the study, but also the broader implications of it. This study, why it’s different or a step beyond the previous studies that I’ve done where I’ve analyzed products, I looked at products called certified green and organic and I also looked at fragrance-free products in addition to the fragrance products and found some really interesting things.
DEBRA: Oh, good! Why don’t you tell us about the study?
DR. ANNE STEINEMANN: Okay, great. So this time, I analyzed 37 common consumer products – the same types that I mentioned, air fresheners, laundry products, cleaners and personal care products. I analyzed them for VOCs, volatile organic compounds. These are things like fumes.
I did not analyze them for SVOCs, the semi volatile organic compounds, petrochemicals like phthalates. So this is just the VOCs, which means there’s potentially more chemicals in these products than just what I found.
So of these 37 products, I found 156 different types of VOCs. Now collectively, that was more than 556 VOCs altogether from these products.
Now what’s interesting is of these 156 VOCs, 42 are classified as toxic or hazardous under federal laws. They were to be regulated for coming out of a smokestack or tailpipe, but they weren’t regulated in these products.
Now what’s interesting…
DEBRA: That is just astounding to me.
DR. ANNE STEINEMANN: Yeah. Well, that’s the untold story here.
DEBRA: If something is regulated, why is it not regulated across the boards? I mean, this is something that I found when I was trying – I still am trying to find out what’s in consumer products – but I would go and I’d look at the regulation and I’d look at the label and I’d find out things. Formaldehyde coming off of a particle board is regulated if it’s in a four-by-eight sheet, but not if it’s cut up and made into a table.
DR. ANNE STEINEMANN: That’s interesting.
DEBRA: That’s ridiculous.
DR. ANNE STEINEMANN: Very, very interesting. It’s the same thing with air fresheners. You’re looking at acetaldehyde, one of my study’s looked at acetaldehyde coming out of dryer vents. So it’s comparable to tailpipe emissions. The tailpipe emissions are heavily regulated. But when we’re looking at dryer vent emissions – actually, that’s my next study. We’re going to be analyzing even more extensively dryer vent emissions. So that one’s coming up. I’ll be doing that.
Back on the findings, these 37 products, collectively, they emitted more than 559 VOCs collectively. Those represent 156 different types of VOCs. And of those 559, 230 of them are classified as toxic or hazardous under federal laws regulated in other media and other forms.
Now what’s interesting is fewer than 3% of all these ingredients were disclosed anywhere on any product label or material safety data sheet and fewer than 6% of the hazardous ones, potentially hazardous ones were listed anywhere. Basically, we have no information on these products.
About half of the products were so called green products. They made some claims of being green, organic, all natural, non-toxic or with essential oils. They also had claims like organic fragrance, natural fragrance. Some of them were green certified by certifying bodies. And essentially the emissions of potentially hazardous chemicals were no different than their regular counterparts.
So this is something that your listeners probably already know. It’s probably the myth of green.
But the bigger story is that if it had a fragrance in it, it didn’t matter whether it was called green or whether it was regular. It emitted the same types of potentially hazardous chemicals.
So this is not to say that all green products are the same as the regular products. I’m saying green fragranced products were no different than the regular fragranced products. That’s an important point.
I’m not saying the truly green, natural ecological simple-based products from things like vinegar and baking soda. Those are green. I’m talking about products that call themselves green or green certified or organic or natural fragrance, but they have a fragrance in them.
There were no significant differences in types of potentially hazardous chemicals or the concentrations between the green fragrance products and the regular fragrance products.
One of the problems with that is the green certifying regulations allow fragrances in them. Actually, the EPA just came out with a revised version of their design for environment. I understand that there’s an option for fragrance-free, but this is just relative. You find a lot of these green certified products. I don’t want to name the certifying body or bodies.
The other big problem I see – and I didn’t really emphasize this in the article because I didn’t really want to go after certain organizations. They’re trying to do a good job. But there are all these green cleaning guides on the internet now like, “How do you evaluate your product? How green or safe is your product?” Well, those organizations do not analyze the products. They go off of labels.
I have talked to these organizations and written to them. I was saying, “How can you provide these assessments of A+ or A or the top rated? When I’ve them, I found potentially hazardous chemicals, ones that have no safe exposure level. And I know that people who are chemically sensitive react to these products and you rate them as the highest products.” They don’t analyze your products.
So I want to put a caution out there against using these green cleaning guides or product evaluation guides put out by a couple of organizations in the US. I’m very concerned that they put out ratings and they never chemically analyzed the products. Even though they may have very sophisticated algorithms for how they decide toxicity, they’re just going off of the listed ingredients, fewer than the 3% of the listed ingredients. I mean. How can you extrapolate doing all these analyses based on less than 3% of the real ingredients?
Anyway, that’s something I’m very concerned about. People are getting misinformation from these green cleaning guides because they don’t analyze the products.
DEBRA: I’m concerned about that too. I’m concerned about it too because it’s very difficult to give something a rating.
What I do is I look at as much information as I can get. I wish that I could just have you right next door here and analyze every product. And then I could say, “Okay. Anne and I have found the least toxic ones on the market.”
DR. ANNE STEINEMANN: I know that I could find a way to bring a human experience because I find that – I’ll call them ‘my people’ or ‘human canaries’. They can say, “This is great. This is an A plus.” Or “This is really bad. This is a D minus.” They know what’s relatively safe, what they can be around and what’s not. So they’re really the ultimate toxicity testers.
Especially in the scientific studies, we can’t really do human subjects testing on people if we know the exposures are going to cause them to be sick. But at the same time, I want to be able to tap this expertise. There’s a wealth of expertise we have across the country with people who are chemically sensitive.
DEBRA: I think that if somebody who is chemically sensitive can tolerate something, it’s probably pretty safe for other people.
DR. ANNE STEINEMANN: Exactly! The way I’d like to have green certifying process is if chemically sensitive have to say, “This is safe.” And then okay, it’s green. The same thing with the green building. “Yes, this building, I can handle. This is a good building.” And I’d say, “Okay, now we can call it a green building.”
DEBRA: I have to say because we’re talking about green that one of the reasons why – I’ve been doing this for more than 30 years, so I’ve gone through different phases in my career. There was a time when green things came out that I thought, “Oh, this is really important. We need to be green.”
But as I did the studying about it, what I found was that most people who were concerned about green or concerned about energy efficiency and resource use and all these kinds of things, which is a fine thing to do, many times the toxicity question was left out completely.
There was a point I think about five years ago now, four or five years ago where I said, “Wait a minute. I need to just put all that green thing aside. There are plenty of people who are working on green issues. And I just need to stick to the toxic issues.”
DR. ANNE STEINEMANN: That is right.
DEBRA: If we don’t pay attention to what’s toxic, it doesn’t matter if we recycle or not because we’re all going to be sick and dead. I’m saying this bluntly, but this is actually true. If we don’t pay attention to…
DR. ANNE STEINEMANN: That’s right. That’s right. Yeah. There are a lot of green buildings that may be good for energy efficiency, but are not good for health.
DEBRA: Yes. And that’s exactly when the whole field of indoor air quality came from, some decades ago. When people started filling up their houses for energy efficiency, people got sicker and sicker and sicker and so people started investigating and finding there are all these toxic chemicals in people’s homes. They were not evident until people started filling them up for energy efficiency.
So if somebody wants something that’s not toxic, do not buy anything that says that it’s green and expect it to be that because that’s not the criteria.
DR. ANNE STEINEMANN: That’s right. Exactly! I want to make sure I cover two more things here while we have time.
People probably go, “Fragrance-free, what did you find in the fragrance free?” Well, I analyzed name-brand fragrance-free versions. So I analyzed the fragrance version of the laundry products and the fragrance-free version of that laundry product. And they were name-brands. I also analyzed fragrance-free green products.
Now what I found was that the fragrance¬¬-free products did not have the terpenes. So they didn’t have the fragrance chemicals, which can be problematic for people. But fragrance-free doesn’t necessarily guarantee non-toxic. That makes sense because the basic product can still have potentially hazardous chemicals in it. But then the added fragrance is a whole another level of potential toxicity and potential hazard.
So fragrance-free was not just simply fragrance minus – the fragrance version minus fragrance chemicals. I mean, there are some other things in it. But all that said, at least it didn’t have the fragrance chemicals.
And this is consistent with the reports I’ve gotten from people. I hear a lot, “I can handle it. If my neighbour uses fragrance-free detergent, then I’m fine. But I can’t use these name-brand fragrance-free detergents because I break out into rash.”
Maybe it’s something where you don’t have all the volatile compounds, so you’re okay around it if somebody else uses it, but you can’t really use it on yourself because it may have other things like nano particles or micro plastics or a lot of SVOCs or something else in it. And these are the name-brand fragrance-free products that I mentioned.
Also, this is on a tangent, but everything is related. I’m getting so many e-mails from people. I might also say that I’ve done this research on my own. No money for it from anywhere. I’ve done it because I feel it was just societal important. It’s giving me no conflict of interest. It’s exciting and at the same time overwhelming to get thousands of e-mail. That’s why I put my articles out there.
I just want to address the question that often comes to me in e-mail. If someone is getting sick from these fragrance products in some environment, what rights do they have? If they’re in the work environment…
DEBRA: Yes, let’s talk about that. Talk about that.
DR. ANNE STEINEMANN: I’ve dealt a lot with this, helping people get – I’m just one person, I wish I can help everyone. So I’m just going to give you the general advice.
If it’s in a workplace, you have rights. You do not have to be exposed to fragrance products. You have rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Don’t let anyone tell you, “Well, fragrance sensitivity isn’t a disability.” The ADA, the Americans with Disabilities Act is symptom-based, not disease-based. So if you have disabling symptoms – and disabling is very broadly defined. I mean, if you get migraine headaches, difficulty breathing, dizziness, lots of cognitive function, feeling woozy, those are disabling.
So you don’t need to “prove” that fragrance sensitivity is a condition or that it’s classified as a disability. If you have adverse effects like the types I described, the types of typical fragrance exposure, it’s considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
All you need to get an accommodation is you have your doctor write a letter. There are lots of good – I want to give you some advice of who to contact. Write a letter saying, “So and so is my patient. And she has a disabling condition and here would be a reasonable accommodation.”
The other thing is you need to be a qualified individual, meaning that you can do your job if you have the accommodation. That means you can do the essential functions of your job, the essential functions if you have the fragrance products removed or you have some accommodations.
Now where to go for advice is a great organization called the Job Accommodation Network, JAN. If you Google them, you’ll pull them up. I think they’re partially supported by the EEOC and they help with workplace accommodations.
That’s for the workplace. In other venues, you are still covered under the ADA. JAN is for workplace accommodations.
So if you look with the Americans with Disabilities Act, there are several titles of them. Some are for public places, some are for private venues. But again, you are entitled to an accommodation.
For instance, if you’re trying to shop at a grocery store and they have an air freshener in their restroom and you can’t use the restroom because of it, you can talk with the management and say, “I am an individual under the American with Disabilities Act and I request a reasonable accommodation. Just get rid of the air freshener,” things like that. You have a legal right to be fragrance free accommodations.
Now it has to be reasonable. So it may not be possible for an entire building to become fragrance-free, but they can certainly provide you a bathroom that you can access that doesn’t have an air freshener just for an example.
DEBRA: All of this is very interesting because I’m thinking about going into a public building, that there’s a difference between what are the fragrances of the chemicals that might be there in the public building itself versus the fragrances or chemicals that people might bring in. If somebody wears perfume into a building, that’s different than having an air freshener in the bathroom.
There’s just no reason why any building cannot be fragrant-free. If all the products exist for everything that they need, it shouldn’t be considered a special accommodation. It should just be that all public buildings are fragrance-free.
Now when I was born all those many decades ago, people smoke in public buildings. Now people do not smoke in public buildings. We should be able to move things forward so that public buildings cannot have toxic chemicals in them no matter what it is, whether it’s fragrances or cleaning products or anything. Building owners should just get enlightened and say, “I’m not going to poison people who come in my building.”
DR. ANNE STEINEMANN: I think it will get to that. I call it the the problem with second hand scents. It’s just like second hand smoke. So eventually, we’ll get to that.
But people need to speak up to realize you have rights. In America, you have good rights. So you’re very well protected with the laws in America. You have to speak up. And eventually, unfortunately, it usually takes a couple of lawsuits to turn things around, but things get turned around.
Employers and managers of buildings and public places have to realize that they cannot just say, “We’re going to put these products out there. If people have adverse effects, too bad.” No, you do have rights.
DEBRA: Yes. Yes. This is so interesting. I’ve seen so much change in the last 30 years that I really think that it is possible to change. I think that people are becoming more aware, not only of the problem, but the fact that we do have the right to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness here in America. How are we supposed to have life or liberty or be happy if we’re being poisoned?
DR. ANNE STEINEMANN: Right. Yeah. Let me go back to what I was talking about before. How do you request an accommodation like the typical one, the air freshener in the grocery store restroom? How do you approach it?
There are many different ways. It really depends on the manager you’re talking to, but oftentimes, an informal gentle approach may work. Just say, “I have this condition and I can’t breathe. My throat closes up whenever I use the bathroom. It’s considered a disability under the ADA?” Let them know you have a legal backing too. It would be considered an accommodation if you could turn it off.”
I’ve never had a case, and I’ve been working in this area for 20 to 25 years, where they’ve refused to provide an accommodation for someone. And I had even gotten air fresheners turned off and removed from major places like airports. So sometimes, it just got through.
I’ve got on my list a lot of airports that have now disconnected or removed their air fresheners just because I talked to them and I go, “You’ve got a liability risk. You’re going to have people coming in here getting sick or having asthma attacks or seizures because of these air fresheners?”
Also explain to them giving them the data that are on my website (I have a fact sheet on air fresheners under my resources page) that air fresheners do not clean. They’re not designed to clean the air. They’re trying to mask an issue. So the best approach is ventilation.
But I think owners of buildings and managers of buildings and stores don’t want to have liability, liability under either the ADA or having someone having adverse effects there on their premises because that affects their insurance as well.
DR. ANNE STEINEMANN: So they’re all right. Sometimes a very nice approach works. If the nice approach is not working, then I often find a letter, just a letter.
Again, there are a lot of people out there who’ve had success with writing letters. I probably should develop some templates and put them up on my website. But the best approach really – because every situation is different and so there is no one right approach. But just do realize you have rights.
DEBRA: Good. So I just want to let you know we have just about 10 minutes left. So I want to make sure that you get to say everything that you want to say.
DR. ANNE STEINEMANN: You’ve been wonderful, Debra. I’m still trying to think if there’s anything that I haven’t yet covered. This is why…
DEBRA: Let me ask you a question while you’re thinking.
DR. ANNE STEINEMANN: Great.
DEBRA: Okay. So what did you find in your testing? Was there a difference between scented products that were scented with essential oils versus products that were scented with synthetic?
DR. ANNE STEINEMANN: No, no, no. Unfortunately, not. No, no. I mean essential oils, there’s been other studies on essential oils. I don’t know what the problem is. I mean, I’m going to get into the chemistry of essential oils, but they’re extracted many times with solvents or they’re diluted with solvents. So there are solvents and petrochemicals in essential oils.
But the other thing is that the product may say it has essential oils, but it may also have fragrances in it. So it doesn’t necessarily disclose that it doesn’t have other fragrance chemicals in it.
DEBRA: Yes. So when you’re testing – I know that for myself when I was first chemically sensitive that the synthetic fragrance that I knew was synthetic fragrance, that would always make me sick. One of the first clues for me was that if I put my perfume on, I get a headache.
And then I found a little place in San Francisco that would scent their shampoo with vanilla and mint. That was wonderful! As long as I knew it was a natural fragrance – well, I didn’t even need to know if it was a natural fragrance and it was high quality and there were other synthetic fragrances with it – I had no problem with it at all.
So it may be that the types of – I’m asking a question now. It may be that the types of products that you were testing had essential oils and something else. But might it be possible that some products that are very carefully made only with essential oils might be okay?
DR. ANNE STEINEMANN: Well, I actually tested some of those products, the ones that were the little homegrown shops essential oils. There’s been a lot of other research on essentials oils. So in their case, the people doing essential oils probably didn’t use solvents to extract some or dilute some, but maybe that the essential oils that these other products that I tested are using are essential oils that have the petrochemicals.
I mean essential oils, things like benzene and toluene, these are serious petrochemicals – I mean, benzene.
And even in the distillation process, just saying they’re distilled doesn’t necessarily guarantee that there are no solvents in it. I’ve talked with people who had done distillation and then in the end, they put in solvents to help the extraction.
So I think it’s important that people that are using a product with essential oils – again, listen to your body. Your body knows.
DEBRA: …because a lot of times, they are used therapeutically. That’s probably a different grade of oil than what you’re going to find in a cleaning product.
DR. ANNE STEINEMANN: Right. If you listen to your body – what I’m trying to do too is to have – people often say, “This product is making me sick, but it shouldn’t because it has essential oils.”
I’m saying, “Well, listen to your body. There’s a reason that maybe it is.”
DEBRA: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Okay. What else would you like to tell us?
DR. ANNE STEINEMANN: You’ve been great, Debra. I just want to thank you for the wonderful work that you do. As I mentioned in the beginning, I see your website as truly a go-to site. You’re the authoritative voice on this topic. So I really appreciate all the work that you do.
DEBRA: Thank you. I try to be very careful. I try to be very careful, but it’s very, very difficult. I think the most that I can do is – I wish I could test every single product and find out what’s really in it. But really, what it comes down to is that I can say these products don’t have a whole list – I don’t even keep a list. I really am looking at each thing individually. But if it’s obvious there are toxic chemicals, I eliminate those.
What I’m trying to do is identify the ones that are coming from reputable companies who have the intent of having things be as least toxic as humanly possible and that they’re really trying for that and that they’re testing their products themselves and things like that.
DR. ANNE STEINEMANN: Right. Exactly.
DEBRA: I’m trying to educate people as much as possible so that we can all make wise decisions. But it’s really, really difficult when we can’t just get the information.
DR. ANNE STEINEMANN: Absolutely right! I’m anticipating another question that your listeners may have. So why didn’t I disclose brand names?
So the scientific reason is that I didn’t need to disclose brand names for purposes of research, but there is a broader reason and that is I didn’t want people looking at brand names and saying, “Oh, I won’t buy brand A. I’d buy brand B instead that you didn’t test.” And basically brand B maybe just as, if not more, potentially hazardous as brand A.
But the point is that every product I tested emitted potentially hazardous chemicals. I didn’t find a single one that didn’t. So I don’t want people to run away from the products that I named to other ones thinking that they’re somehow better because it was this whole class of products.
There’s a third reason actually. That’s legal liability.
DR. ANNE STEINEMANN: I think I’m probably the only one doing research on this topic. There’s a reason for that. I have to be very careful not to be sued.
DEBRA: I think I’m the only person that is doing the kind of work that I’m doing. There are certainly other organizations that are working on toxics, making this connection between the toxic chemicals, the health effects and where it is in a product.
DR. ANNE STEINEMANN: Exactly.
DEBRA: Where is your exposure? How are you going to reduce your exposure?
And there are, as you mentioned, lists that have been compiled. But those lists are just rating them. You could look up a brand and say, it will tell you, “This is really toxic.” I’m selecting and saying, “Go on this direction. These are less likely to hurt you.”
As I said earlier, whether or not something is toxic to you individually, it depends on so many factors about your own body, as well as the inherent toxicity of some things.
DR. ANNE STEINEMANN: Exactly. Exactly.
DEBRA: There’s nobody in the world that can say any product is safe for everyone. Everyone needs to evaluate it for themselves. And that’s really the bottomline of it.
DR. ANNE STEINEMANN: Right, absolutely.
DEBRA: Yeah. So how did you end up in Australia?
DR. ANNE STEINEMANN: I’ll tell you. It was this position. It’s a great position. I’m here as a Professor at the University of Melbourne, Australia, which is considered the best university in Australia. They want me to lead an international research program on healthy buildings. They’ve been extremely supportive of my research on this topic and so I thought, “Great.”
Yeah! No, it’s wonderful! It’s exciting. I feel like I can do research that will help people around the world. Again, they’ve been supportive. It’s a great university, great colleagues. They want to support research that’s going to make a big international impact and I said, “This will.”
DEBRA: This will, this absolutely will.
DR. ANNE STEINEMANN: Exactly! So they’re very interested in healthy buildings, healthy products, doing research on that topic.
DEBRA: That’s right. If you are going to have a healthy building, you’ll have to put healthy things inside of it.
DR. ANNE STEINEMANN: Exactly. Exactly.
DEBRA: It’s all one unit…
DR. ANNE STEINEMANN: Exactly. So I’m really hoping to make – exactly! I’m hoping to do the research studies and get them out there and do the international work that’s going to help people.
DEBRA: Well, you already are. You already are.
DR. ANNE STEINEMANN: Thank you.
DEBRA: I’m just so pleased that you’re doing this because it really does show what’s actually going on. You show what the problem is and that we need to have better solutions. We need to have better labeling laws.
I would actually prefer having labeling laws to the laws that people are trying to pass about tighter regulations. I’d like to know what’s in a product so that I can choose to not use it.
DR. ANNE STEINEMANN: Right. That’s right.
DEBRA: And I think that that’s the most important thing myself. It’s not that I don’t think that we shouldn’t have tighter regulations, but we have a right to know. We have a right to be healthy. We have rights to be able to make choices.
And we can’t do that with our consumer products, the things that we have in our homes day in and day out. We don’t know what they are. You’re shining a light on it and saying, “Look. Here, this is what’s in the product that’s not on the label.”
DR. ANNE STEINEMANN: Thank you.
DEBRA: I’m so proud of you.
DR. ANNE STEINEMANN: Well, no. I’m so proud of you. And I’m so proud of everyone out there. People who are chemically sensitive, I just admire you so much for what you go through during the day. You’re the real heroes. You have strength that no one else does and no one else knows about. You’re trying to get through everyday life in society with all this stuff around.
That’s why I’m proud of all the work that you do because you’re really a pioneer. You’re a heroine. You’re out there, doing the work, but so are your listening audience.
DR. ANNE STEINEMANN: My hats off to all of them, yes!
DEBRA: Yeah. Yeah. Okay. So we’re down to the last minute now. And we can’t go over because….
DR. ANNE STEINEMANN: We can’t go over. Debra, thank you. Be optimistic, be positive. Things will work out. We’re going to get information. Things will turn around. Things always get better.
DEBRA: Yes. And everybody should know that there are people working on this. Anne and I are working on it and other people. And you all as consumers have power. And now, we only have 20 seconds left. So I’m going to say thank you so much. You’re listening to Toxic Free…
DR. ANNE STEINEMANN: Thank you, Debra.
DEBRA: You’re welcome. You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. My guest today has been Anne Steinemann.
You can go to Toxic Free Talk Radio and get all her links. Go to her website and find out everything.
Here we go! It’s coming down. Five, four, three, two, one. Be well. Bye!