Gov’t asks what’s in Febreze fresheners

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Gov’t asks what’s in Febreze fresheners

The possibility that air fresheners and deodorizing agents may contain the same chemicals used in humidifier sterilizers that killed and sickened hundreds has prompted a state-led probe into Proctor and Gamble’s Febreze.

The Ministry of Environment announced Monday that it has requested P&G Korea to reveal the chemicals used in Febreze, a popular air freshener and odor reducing spray. The company issued a press release saying it has “submitted all of the data on chemicals used in Febreze to the Environment Ministry,” and that it will post the complete list on its official website within this week.

The ministry’s action follows an expert analysis on a compound used in Febreze called quaternary ammonium chloride.

Earlier this month, Leem Jong-han, a professor at the Inha University School of Medicine, published a study questioning the safety of the compound.

“The ammonium salt’s use in air fresheners or deodorizing agents has been confirmed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the European Union,” said Ryu Young-ki, head of the external relations department at P&G Korea. “The component has also been tested for safety in Korea.”

A worrying report submitted last May by the Korea Institute of Toxicology, which operates under the Korea Research Institute of Chemical Technology, said that as many as 23 percent of 1,432 biocide products - chemical agents that can kill a living organism - in Korea, were found to contain the chemicals PHMG, CMIT/MIT, BIT and IPBC, all known to exhibit inhalation toxicity. These products include 118 deodorizing agents, 17 refrigerator deodorizers, 11 fabric softener products, and nine wet-wipe products for infants’ use.

The compounds PHMG and CMIT/MIT were found in humidifier sterilizers that sickened or killed hundreds of consumers from 2001 to 2011, when local health authorities banned all sales of the products, citing health problems.

“The use of PHMG and PGH in spray-form deodorizing agents on the ministry’s watch list has been banned,” said an Environment Ministry official. “While the use of CMIT/MIT in fabric softeners is limited to a certain amount, their use in deodorizing agents has not been prohibited.”

“The Environment Ministry started to manage regulation of chemicals used in deodorizers and air fresheners only recently,” the official added. “The ministry will be pursuing a prohibition on the use of toxic chemicals in deodorizers as soon as possible.”

According to the report by the Korea Institute of Toxicology, the regulation of biocides is scattered among different government departments: the Ministry of Health and Welfare and Ministry of Food and Drug Safety regulates sterilizers and pesticides; the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries regulate animal and livestock-related biocides; and the Ministry of Environment regulates preservatives, disinfectants and water treatment chemicals.

According to the Environment Ministry official, it was only last April that the ministry started regulating chemicals used in deodorizers and air fresheners.

“Chemicals whose inhalation toxicity has been proven should be altogether banned,” said Kim Shin-bum, a department head at the Wonjin Institute for Occupational and Environmental Health, “but the Korean government issues the bans by the products and not by the chemicals, creating loopholes [in chemical regulation].”

BY SUNG SI-YOON, KANG KI-HEON [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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