On 25th August both The Mail and The Sun ran stories of research in the US claiming that there is a potential cancer risk from the use of perfumed laundry products. UKCPI responded quickly along the following lines to the media coverage as well as to NHS Direct.
The information provided by the study on trace levels of substances in air from tumble dryers simply uses modern analytical techniques to list volatile substances that are present in air and recites their hazards without considering how the quantities involved relate to safe levels. It's like raising the alarm about the hazards of aspirin without considering whether you're taking half a tablet or two bottles full.
Almost everything you can smell is due to small amounts of volatile chemicals - dozens or maybe hundreds of them. Using the study's approach you could make a walk in the garden sound like a death-defying adventure. Coffee contains over 1000 different chemicals and more than half those tested for ability to cause cancer at sufficiently high doses tested positive. But of course coffee's safe because the quantities involved are so small.
To put the data reported in the study into context:
- Benzene is naturally present in various foods and constantly present in both indoor and outdoor air. It is not used in fragranced products and any emissions of trace impurities from fragrances are insignificant compared to the major sources such as fuel vapours from integral garages and smoking. The levels of benzene detected in the dryer vent itself were around 2-3 ug/m3 - that's actually lower than the EU safety standard for benzene in indoor air (5ug/m3) and lower than the typical levels in indoor air in many homes.
- Acetaldehyde is emitted from a wide range of natural sources including apples and people's breath, especially when they've been drinking alcohol. A recent EU scientific review of possible risks from substances in indoor air concluded that "people in Europe do not experince increased health hazards associated with acetaldehyde levels in their homes". The levels of acetaldehyde in the dryer vent (22 - 47 ug.m3) are little higher than typical indoor air levels (10-20 ug/m3) and an order of magnitude below the EU recommended safe level (200 ug/m3). You can be reassured that emissions of traces of volatile substances from tumble dryers are not a risk to health.