SCIENCE: How fresh is your air indoors? | Breast Cancer UK

SCIENCE: How fresh is your air indoors?

Published 28 Jan 2016

In an episode for the documentary series “Trust Me I’m a Doctor” a BBC team of doctors, along with Professor Alastair Lewis of the National Centre for Atmospheric Science at the University of York , investigated indoor air quality in six homes in York, by measuring concentrations of volatile organic compounds.

They found that limonene, a citrus-based hydrocarbon commonly used as a fragrance in air fresheners, was present at relatively high concentrations in indoor air in three of the homes tested and this corresponded to the amount of household products and scented candles they used.

Although not thought to be carcinogenic itself, limonene reacts with ozone (present in air) to form formaldehyde, an eye, nose, and throat irritant[1] and known human carcinogen, which may cause breast cancer at high concentrations following occupational exposure[2] and may increase breast cancer risk at low, environmentally relevant concentrations[3]. The formation of formaldehyde from ozone and limonene occurs more readily at higher temperatures[4].

The documentary team found that common house plants such as geraniums, lavender and ferns may be used to help absorb some of the released formaldehyde.  

Breast Cancer UK suggest the best way to reduce exposure to formaldehyde and other indoor pollutants is to avoid or minimize the use of air fresheners and cosmetics containing fragrance. For more suggestions on how to reduce your risk of breast cancer see the reduce your risk section of our website.

Further information on the documentary and the experiment can be found on the BBC website here

References:

[1] Kim et al. (2015). Characterization of air freshener emission: the potential health effects. The Journal of Toxicological Science 40(5) 535-550 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26354370

[2] Cantor et al. (1995). Occupational exposures and female breast cancer mortality in the United States. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine 37: 336–348. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7796202

[3] Coyle et al (2005). An ecological study of the association of environmental chemicals on breast cancer incidence in Texas. Breast Cancer Research and Treatment 92(2):107-114. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15986119

[4] Kim et al. (2015). Characterization of air freshener emission: the potential health effects. The Journal of Toxicological Science 40(5) 535-550 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26354370

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