Lead? Phthalates? Keep harmful chemicals out of your home

Consumer Reports News: December 28, 2009 11:53 AM

The smells of pine, cloves, and rosemary are in the air this time of year. But if you’re surrounding yourself with the scents of the season, you might also be introducing chemicals into your home.

VOCs and phthalates. Most candles contain both natural and synthetic fragrances, according to the National Candle Association, a trade group. Synthetic fragrances are a concern because they might emit potentially hormone-disrupting phthalates. The same is true of air fresheners. They can also release volatile organic compounds, which are chemicals that might irritate the respiratory system.

Lead. Toxic lead-core wicks, which were once common, were banned in 2003. So if you have old candles around, they might have those wicks. The NCA says manufacturers now use primarily cotton, cotton paper, zinc-core or tin-core wicks, which it claims are safe.

Paraffin. This waxy material is derived from petroleum, a nonrenewable resource. Many candle makers are now using natural and renewable ingredients such as soy or beeswax in place of paraffin. Organic soy is another good option because it’s made from nongenetically engineered plants grown without synthetic fertilizers or harmful pesticides. Many local farmers markets sell those natural candles.

Better options. To surround yourself with nice smells, I recommend simmering a pot of water with a cinnamon stick, cloves, and/or orange peels (keep an eye on the water level in the pot) or stick cloves in an orange and leave it to dry. Keep rosemary, thyme, or sage on a windowsill, or buy an herb wreath or eucalyptus branches. Or fill a bowl of sachet with some balsam fir needles. But be careful with essential oils! They can cause bad reactions, and compounds found in some of them, including pennyroyal and wintergreen, might be toxic. And pregnant or nursing women or people with asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, or migraine headaches should probably avoid them.

Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., director of Greener choices.org

Take a look at 10 ways to reduce your exposure to harmful chemicals in household products and see our list of green household cleaning products, and for more how toxins in everyday products can impact your life, visit www.GreenerChoices.org.

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