Fresh or Foul? 
Air Fresheners in Public Spaces  
UPdate Fall 2002

Finding a public washroom is a difficult task if you are sensitive to scents and chemicals.  Most washrooms are equipped with the "dreaded air freshener."  Are restaurants required by law to have air fresheners in their washrooms? UPdate asked someone who knows, NS Department of Agriculture Health Inspector Calvin Latham.  "There is no regulation requiring air fresheners," stated Latham.  "That is
purely the choice of the restaurant.  Air fresheners don't do anything for health.  All we require is mechanical ventilation.  We don't even recommend anti-bacterial soap in washrooms, just good hand washing."  UPdate asked if this was a recent change.  "I've been doing this job for 22 years," Latham responded. "I would never look for an air freshener, it wouldn't even occur to me."

Air fresheners work either by using a nerve-deadening agent which interferes with the ability to smell, or by covering up one smell with another. The most common ingredients in air fresheners are ethanol, formaldehyde, fragrances, naphthalene, phenol and xylene. 

-Formaldehyde is considered among the top 10% of hazardous chemicals for human health. It is a recognized carcinogen, neurotoxicant, immunotoxicant and suspected of harming many other body systems. 

-Naphthalene is a suspected carcinogen and may cause blood, kidney, liver and developmental damage. 

-Xylene may cause liver and kidney damage, as well as damage to a developing fetus. Repeated exposures can lead to memory loss. 

-Phenol is another suspected developmental, kidney, respiratory, neurological and skin and sensory organ toxicant. 

-Naphthalene, xylene and phenol are all categorized as more hazardous than most chemicals.

So the next time a restaurant manager says they are required to have air fresheners in their washroom, you can tell them that if they choose to remove them, many people with scent and chemical sensitivities will breathe a sigh of relief, everyone will be healthier,  and no government department will say a word.