Hidden Scents in our products and the Great Lakes

Kathleen Schuler, MPH, Director Healthy Kids and Families at Conservation Minnesota and Co-Director of Healthy legacy

I’m betting you’ve never heard of galaxolide.  Galaxolide is a little known chemical that is very likely in your body and in your home. It’s a synthetic musk that is added to an array of scented home and personal care products including perfumes, shampoos, detergents, air fresheners, room sprays, plug-ins, candles and cleaners. Increasing use of this chemical has resulted in its presence in the human body and in the Great Lakes.

Women’s Voices for the Earth commissioned an analysis of galaxolide using the GreenScreen® for Safer Chemicals, an internationally recognized tool for assessing the hazardous properties of chemicals. In order to identify chemicals of high concern, the Green Screen® rates and scores chemicals, based on 18 different health and environmental endpoints, including persistence and bioaccumulation in the environment and toxicity to aquatic life. Galaxolide’s score reflects the highest level of concern for the safety of the chemical, a Benchmark 1-“Avoid.

Toxic to Aquatic Life and Humans
Galaxolide is highly toxic to fish and other aquatic species. It is persistent in the environment and builds up in the human body. It’s also been detected in umbilical cord blood and breast milk. One study found galaxolide in bodies of 91 percent of people tested and levels in blood were correlated with greater use of lotions and perfumes.  That’s a problem because there is evidence that galaxolide is a hormone disrupter, which means that exposure to tiny amounts of the chemical can impact health. Researchers found that exposure to galaxolide may also inhibit resistance to other chemicals, resulting in a higher accumulation of chemicals in the body.  

Galaxolide in the Great Lakes
Galaxolide enters the environment through wastewater discharge and atmospheric deposition. It has been detected in Lake Erie and Lake Ontario sediments, doubling every 16 years in Lake Erie and every 8 years in Lake Ontario. It's also been found in the waters and air above Lake Michigan. Right in our own backyard, levels of galaxolide in Lake Superior are the second highest among the Great Lakes, second only to Lake Ontario.

Action Needed
Now that the hazards of galaxolide are evident, manufacturers who still use it need to phase it out of their products. SC Johnson is one of just six manufacturers in the U.S. importing and using this high production volume chemical. Over 80 products made by JC Johnson contain galaxolide, including Windex, Pledge, Scrubbing Bubbles, Shout! and Glade air fresheners. Take a moment to urge SC Johnson to protect the Great Lakes and our health by eliminating the fragrance chemical galaxolide. 
How can you avoid products with galaxolide? Since fragrance ingredients, like galaxolide, are not required to be disclosed on a product label or website, it can be challenging to avoid when purchasing products. Here are some quick tips:

•    Look for fragrance-free cleaning products (remember that “unscented” does not mean fragrance-free) or if you have a question about whether a fragranced product you use contains this chemical of concern, call the manufacturer and ask — if they don’t provide the answer you need, ask yourself whether or not it is a product you need, and voice your concerns about the hazards of Galaxolide.

•    Make your own cleaning products. Here are some to get you started.

•    Research and purchase brands that don't use galaxolide and that you trust.