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Be scent free and 'Air Aware'

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For some, breathing while in a scented environment isn't a healthy option

Scented products can be harmful to many people, and can make those who have allergies, migraines, environmental sensitivities, and chronic heart or lung disease very sick. In fact, one in four people in Canada suffer from respiratory disease and more than 600,000 have physical symptoms when exposed to chemicals in the air.

That's why we're working together at the Mount to choose products that will not affect the health of our students, staff, faculty and visitors and to ensure a healthy, comfortable and productive environment for everyone.

The following information will help you make informed decisions on choosing alternatives to scented products. Remember, be air aware, because we share the air at the Mount.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

What are scents?
How can scented products affect your health?
What is the Mount doing and how can you help?
How can you find alternatives to scented products
                                                                    

What are scents?

When we refer to "scents", we usually mean the smells or odours from cosmetics (perfume, make-up, shampoo, deodorant, and so on) or from other products such as air fresheners and cleaners.

However, the issue with scented products is not so much the smell itself, but the chemicals that produce the smell. There are more than 4000 chemicals that can be used in scented products and a typical fragrance can contain between 100 to 350 of these .

Several of these chemicals can be toxic, with more than 95% of them being made of synthetic compounds from petroleum.  These include chemicals like diethyl phthalate, benzene and aldehydes - which add fragrance and produce vapour, but are also known carcinogens and triggers for sensitive people.

Products that traditionally contain scents and chemicals include:

Shampoo, conditioners, hairsprays           Some brands of garbage bags
Air fresheners & deodorizers Deodorants
Industrial and household chemicals  Potpourri
Colognes & aftershaves Cosmetics
Fragrances & perfumes Candles
Lotions & creams Diapers
Soaps Oils

    

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How can scented products affect your health?

Scents enter our bodies through our skin and our lungs. The chemicals in scents can cause many different reactions. Even products containing natural plant extracts can cause allergic reactions in some people.

While some people are only mildly affected by scents, others have severe reactions that include:

 dizziness, lightheadedness confusion
 upper respiratory symptoms headaches
 shortness of breath malaise
 difficulty with concentration loss of appetite
 numbness  nausea
 insomnia  fatigue
 anxiety  weakness
 skin irritation 

 

Allergic and asthmatic patients, as well as those with other conditions, report that certain odours, even in the smallest amounts, can trigger an attack.

The severity of these symptoms can vary. Some people report mild irritation while others are incapacitated to the point that they have to avoid public places.                            

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What is the Mount doing, and how can you help?

With 4000 students, 500 staff members, and many visitors coming to campus everyday, the Mount knows the importance of striving to maintain a scent-free and healthy environment for our community. Wherever possible, from the hand soap we use in our washrooms to the cleaning products we use to maintain our facilities, the Mount uses scent-free, or low-scent products on campus. Additionally, many of the cleaning products used at the Mount have an EcoLogo or Green Seal approval, meaning they have been rigorously tested for their environmental safety. The Mount also uses non-toxic (low volatile organic compound) paint products around campus, which emit far less toxins than most paint products. We also now have "No Idle" zones in front of many of our buildings to reduce carbon emissions near building entrances.

You can do your part by choosing alternatives to scented products. Unfortunately, there is no exact definition for "scent-free," "fragrance-free" or "unscented." Products labelled as "unscented" may actually contain chemicals that are used to mask or hide the smell of other ingredients. According to Health Canada, when labelling cosmetics, "scent-free," "fragrance free" and "unscented" do not necessarily mean the product is chemical free. It could mean that fragrances haven't been added, but it could also mean that a masking agent has been added to hide the scent.  While it is important to be aware of the lack of consistency when these terms are used, the terms can still be a rough guideline when choosing products. Be sure to research products carefully if you know you will be in the presence of a person with sensitivities.                                                 

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How do I find alternatives to scented products?

The Environmental Health Association of Nova Scotia (EHANS), formerly the Nova Scotia Allergy and Environmental Health Association, is a community based, non-profit, organization that focuses on environmental health and the impact on human health of common hazards in our indoor and outdoor environments. They provide some great tips and suggestions for choosing scent-free products in their online guide,  Click here to access the guide.

Occupational Health and Safety at the Mount wants to hear from you. Send us your tips on scent-free products, questions or comments at: msvu.ca.

                                                                               

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Sources: Nova Scotia Allergy and Environmental Health Association, Canadian Lung Association, Statistics Canada; Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, Health Canada

 

 

 

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Facts for thought

600,000: Number of Canadians who have  physical symptoms when exposed to chemicals in the air.

15: Percentage of  Canadian population are estimated to have some kind of breathing problem affected by chemicals in scented products.

17: Percentage of Canadians who suffer from migraine headaches, which can be triggered by scents.

80: Percentage of chemical ingredients in scented products that have never been tested for their toxicity in humans.

$247.1-million: Dollar value of imported perfumes sold in Canada in 2008.

4,000: Number of different chemicals that may be used in the making of fragrances.

 

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