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Fragrance Free Day asks perfume users to skip it

| Monday, May 21, 2012, 12:30 a.m.

You may want to think twice before applying that morning spritz of cologne or perfume before heading off to work.

A local group believes it may actually be harmful to you and the people around you.

Fresh scents have long been synonymous with cleanliness, sophistication and all things natural, making the flavor and fragrance market a $20 billion industry. However, some advocacy groups say pleasing smells that come from a can or bottle might be anything but clean and natural.

Women for a Health Environment in Shadyside says the thrust behind its "Fragrance Free Day" campaign is aimed more at steering consumers -- and their noses -- toward more-natural alternatives.

"Fragrance is one of those mystery ingredients we encounter everyday -- with our laundry detergent, soaps, perfumes, scented candles. Yet, people have no idea what chemicals they're actually inhaling," says executive director Michelle Naccarati-Chapkis. "If you're in an enclosed setting like the workplace, it can be particularly difficult to deal with."

The Pittsburgh City Council is expected to issue a proclamation declaring Tuesday "Fragrance Free Day." An online webinar at 11 a.m. that day will feature health and human resources experts, who are expected to discuss potential health effects from fragrances, legal challenges and strategies on how to create a fragrance-free workplace. (Registration is required.)

From 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Bill Deasy will provide entertainment in Market Square, while planners urge people take part in a "Don't Spray for a Day" pledge. Visitors can pick up a frengrance-free toolkit, take the "Don't Spray for a Day" pledge and learn about alternatives to synthetic fragrance.

Certain fragrances have been known to trigger allergic reactions for some people, or aggravate pre-existing conditions such as asthma in others.

Toddlers and pets also are particularly vulnerable, particularly in homes where carpet fresheners routinely are used.

The Federal Fair Packaging and Labeling Act of 1973 requires labels that disclose contents and ingredients on retail products sold to consumers. Buyers may not know what chemicals they actually are inhaling or being exposed to because the regulations don't apply to fragrance ingredients.

For example, laboratory tests done in 2010 by two groups -- the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and the Environmental Working Group -- found 38 secret chemicals in 17 top-selling name-brand fragrance products.

Naccarati-Chapkis and other advocates say consumers should embrace goods that either are fragrance-free or are made with materials they know are not harmful.

One move is to use cleaner-burning soy candles, rather than regular scented candles, and using soaps made with aloe and olive oil.

Vinegar and baking soda work well as household cleaners and deodorizers, sometimes better than some spray-on products.

"We can't ask people to do a complete makeover of their homes," Naccarati-Chapkis says. "Even making small steps can make a big difference in ensuring that your family is living in a safe environment."

Details: Women For a Healthy Environment.org

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