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Lung Disease & Respiratory Health Center

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Air Fresheners Linked to Lung Damage

Chemical in Air Fresheners, Toilet Deodorizers, Mothballs Cuts Lung Function
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

July 27, 2006 -- A chemical found in air fresheners, toilet deodorizers, and mothballs -- and in the blood of 96% of Americans -- may harm the lungs.

The finding comes from a National Institutes of Health study that measured lung function and blood levels of 11 household chemicals in 953 U.S. adults. All 11 chemicals are volatile organic compounds -- chemicals given off as gasses from common household products.

Only one was linked to lung damage: 1,4-dichlorobenzene or 1,4-DCB. You know what it smells like -- mothballs. It's most often used in room deodorizers, urinal and toilet-bowl blocks, and, yes, mothballs.

The 10% of people with the highest blood levels of 1,4-DCB did 4% worse in a test of lung function than the 10% of people with the lowest blood levels of the chemical, found Stephanie J. London, MD, and colleagues at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS).

The researchers called this a "modest reduction" in lung function. But they warn it could be serious for people who suffer asthmaasthma or other lung problems. And the reduced lung function test linked to 1,4-DCB is also a risk factor for heart diseaseheart disease, strokestroke, lung cancerlung cancer, and death from any cause.

"Even a small reduction in lung function may indicate some harm to the lungs," London said, in a news release.

A 2005 study found that the risk of asthma in children age 6 months to 3 years goes up as their home 1,4-DCB exposure increases.

"This research suggests that 1,4-DCB may exacerbate respiratory diseases," said NIEHS director David A. Schwartz, MD, in a news release.

In some homes and public restrooms, the CDC has detected 1,4-DCB levels that exceed the Environmental Protection Agency's minimal risk limit for long-term exposure.

London suggests that people can limit their exposure to 1,4-DCB by reducing their use of products containing the chemical. But that may not be entirely successful.

A 1987 study by the Environmental Protection Agency found 1,4-DCB in the air of 80% of U.S. homes surveyed. Only a third of these homes used products containing the chemical.

The new findings appear in the August issue of Environmental Health Perspectives.

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