Better Off Well


De-Tox Our Schools: Step Two

"There are four basic ingredients in (solid) air fresheners: formaldehyde, petroleum distillates, p-dicholorobenzene, and aerosol propellants." I didn't need to go to some obscure holistic wellness site to find this information. This is straight from our own government's Environmental Protection Agency. "Baking soda, which is not toxic, can also be used to freshen your home."

 air freshener

While I haven't used solid pull-up air fresheners in years, they sit in just about every classroom in my son's school and in classrooms across the country.

Which means for at least 180 days of the year, our children are inhaling...

formaldehyde- classified as a human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)

p-dicholorobenzene- "reasonably anticipated to be a carcinogen" by the US Department of Health & Human Services and the IARC and "known to the State to cause cancer" in California

petroleum distillates- known to potentially cause headaches, dizziness, drowsiness, dry cracked skin, or irritation to the eyes, nose, and throat by the Centers for Disease Control.


aerosol propellants- can include anything like methane, propane, butane, and volatile compounds found in paint

But this is just solid air fresheners.

What about the spray ones? As a former fan of Febreeze, it was disheartening to learn about the ingredients the Environmental Working Group found in its Air Effects product:

BHT- known neurotoxin acetaldehyde- known carcinogen fragrance- phthalates and neurotoxins ...and the list goes on, up to 87 in this chemical cocktail. Read more here.

Why are the products even allowed on our shelves?

THAT is the billion dollar question and it's usually a billion dollar answer.

In our political system, corporate constituents have a great deal of influence. Products are often approved by the FDA without any testing or relying on tests submitted by the manufacturer. Any testing that is done is often short-term, no longer than 90 days.

Human tests are impossible for ethical reasons, so we have to rely on studies that survey large groups of people, like the European Community Respiratory Health Survey, which collected data from 3500 people in ten European countries and found that "regular use of fragrance sprays can increase your risk of developing asthma by 30-50%".

Which means it isn't only our kids that need to do homework.

We have to be vigilant, too.

EVERY toxin we remove from our environment helps our bodies to be strong enough to handle the ones we can't avoid.

SO I propose the SECOND step in de-toxing our classrooms is to get rid of the chemical air fresheners. Put the lid back on the solids, pull the plug on the plug-ins, and dump the spray bottles.

For the teachers reading this, I do understand. As a former teacher, I know about the odors a classroom full of children can invite. Believe me. I taught sixth grade. I know.

The good news is there are better alternatives!

Some are easy, like running fans or cracking windows. Even tiny openings in the winter will make a difference in air circulation.

Keep boxes of baking soda up on shelves around the room. Sprinkle carpets with baking soda before leaving in the afternoon to absorb odors that will be vacuumed by the custodial staff. Keep indoor plants in the classroom to help clean the air and bring a little of the outside inside.

There are better air fresheners, too. The Environmental Working Group provides a graded listing here.

This is such a simple step, yet it will mean a world of difference to our children who deserve the cleanest air and an environment that allows them to stay focused, energized, and ready to take on the world.