Secret Fragrance Chemicals: Stink!

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January 22, 2016

What is that smell? It might be pleasant, and it might be foul, but could very well be toxic. A new documentary reveals chemicals used in everyday products carry alarming toxicities one would never suspect, and it’s perfectly legal.

For Jon Whelan the road to making this discovery began with a Christmas present he purchased for his daughter in 2011 – pajamas that when removed from the package emitted an awful smell. Trying to find out what it was proved enlightening in a very negative way. Not just those PJs, but the hundreds of chemicals used by manufacturers in all sorts of products that a) they don’t have to list on the label or identify in anyway, and b) that the FDA has no control over the use of these ingredients in many products. Jon spent 3 years researching this. He’s talked to everyone from corporations to government representatives and Washington lobbyists. Now he’s on a crusade against chemical companies. Everything he learned, and the interviews he conducted along the way is in the new documentary, Stink!

“In making “Stink!” over the past three years, I have learned that companies don’t need to disclose whether products contain chemicals that cause cancer or disrupt hormones, even chemicals that could interfere with a child’s growth, or cause reproductive problems. Certainly we can all agree that American consumers should have the right to choose whether they want to be exposed to chemicals that cause cancer, or birth defects, or reproductive harm? Apparently not.

By keeping the ingredients secret, companies are taking away our ability to make informed choices. In other words, we don’t even have the right to choose whether we want to be exposed to a carcinogen. Companies using unsafe ingredients get to choose for us.” — Jon Whelan

The people you’d think are supposed to be regulating the use of chemicals for consumer safety aren’t doing so! Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. It seems that the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act grandfathered in tens of thousands of existing chemicals, simply assuming their safety without requiring proof. Look at where rapid rise in health issues starts in the chart below captured from the Stink! trailer. The first big spike looks to be right about 1976-1977 going by the spacing between identified years on the bottom row of chart labeling. And notice that before that – perhaps beginning in the late 60s – chemical production leaps into being with only obesity registering before that.

Clip from Stink! - The Movie

Anything can be lumped under the listing ‘fragrances’ in makeup, hygiene products, cleaning products, and more. The manufacturers are adamantly against listing ingredients of labels of cleaning products. It’s a lot like not labeling GMOs, but worse, because there are known carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, and other health destructive agents that they keep under lock and key, claiming them to be trade secrets. Right. Wouldn’t a good chemist worth his salt be able buy their product at a store, and analyze it, breaking down the ingredients and their quantities? Like their competitors don’t already know what’s in their product? And if Unilever stole Proctor & Gamble’s recipe, don’t you think that there’d be one hell of a lawsuit as a result? This so-called trade secret protection is most likely a method of not letting consumers find out what’s in the bottle.

Watch the Stink! trailer, and pay attention, you don’t want to miss the woman who says, “They don’t want consumers to know that ingredients in Chanel No. 5 are the same ingredients used in their toilet bowl cleaner.”

Fortune did a piece on this documentary in December. The reporter contacted the FDA for some fact checking, and got pretty much the same response that Whelan did. There’s nothing to be released through the Freedom of Information Act from the FDA about chemicals in personal products. The reporter did come away with this:

“She did not deny that the “proprietary“ label precludes any demand for further disclosure, or that ingredients deemed harmful in, say food, could be included in other products. These would include formaldehyde and phthalates.”

Wanting to find out more about how to watch this movie, I discovered that it is only possible through viewings in key US cities right now, but the website announces Viewing On Demand premieres on February 16, 2016. Awesome, it probably will be pay per view, but I’d love to see it anyway. Rumor has it that Stink! will also be on DVD at some point in the future.

So, while checking out everything on the Stink website, I discovered some super interesting (and scary) news that came out this week. BBC and National Centre for Atmospheric Science professor, Alastair Lewis York have shown that citrus-scented candles, cleaning products, and air fresheners present a health hazard. The chemical d-Limonene when meeting ozone in the air inside a house causes a reaction that creates cancer-causing formaldehyde to appear. New York Daily News

Researchers in Germany found that phthalates used in soft plastics such as the packaging on sausage, lunch meats, and cheeses affects hormones, and disrupts the metabolism in mice – causing weight gain, the effect was most pronounced in female mice. Their research paper published on Tuesday describes what they’ve learned and their plans for digging deeper into the problem. Healthcanal

And a San Francisco newspaper published an article yesterday about the horrors hiding under ‘fragrance’ in cleaning products. The article wasn’t accessible without a subscription, but a little sleuthing found it displayed in full elsewhere. Over 3,000 chemicals are used to create fragrances in everything from perfume to cleaning products. Some of them are linked to: asthma, birth defects, cancer, and infertility. California wants them to be listed on the labels starting in 2017, and there’s a bill awaiting approval to make that a state code. It was read for the 3rd time on Wednesday of this week.  The ArticleThe Bill: AB-708

If you want to catch the Video On Demand viewing of Stink! … Here’s The Link

Amber

Amber

Contributing Writer at Garden Culture Magazine
The garden played a starring role from spring through fall in the house Amber was raised in. She has decades of experience growing plants from seeds and cuttings in the plot and pots.
Amber

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