VOC’s Are Unknown Consumer Hazard that Could Lead to Cancer

Caruso’s signature scent is sprayed in the underground parking structures and near the valet entrance.

A man was criticized on the social media forum Nextdoor Palisades after he mentioned in a post that Caruso’s Palisades Village sprayed a scent (apple-tobacco) in the concierge, valet and underground parking areas.

He said the spray gave him a headache and he was concerned about volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

I had noticed the scent when walking through the Village, and know from experience that my mom used to experience severe headaches when she encountered the perfumes that seemed to emanate from the makeup areas in large department stores.

I also have been a youth soccer referee for more than 20 years and in the last few years, kids with asthma have become a major concern on the field. More than once I’ve had players go off because they can’t breathe.

Was the Nextdoor poster concerned about VOCs as a “canary in a coal mine” that should be investigated – because VOCs are dangerous? Or was this simply someone upset with Caruso?

What are VOCs and where are they found?

They are defined as gases that are given off by many indoor sources with concentrations higher indoors than in outdoor air.

In 1996, California passed AB 3588 that limited VOCs from construction material and paint: the “Sick Building Syndrome.”

This month, the National Law Review ran a story (“California Considering Further Restrictions on VOCs in Consumer Products”), regarding possible actions by the California Air Resources Board.

The products that  may come under consideration trewax floor stripper, aerosol cooking spray, laundry detergent and liquid fabric softener, anti-microbial dry hand wash (hand sanitizer), aerosol sunscreen, mouthwash and rinse, automatic air fresheners, antiperspirants and deodorants and glass cleaner (non-aerosol).

The draft proposal also is considering removing the fragrance exemption that currently exists in products.

An Allure magazine article in  February 2018 story (“Spraying Your Perfume Apparently Produces as Much Air Pollution as Car Emissions”) cited a Science magazine report that “scented products (which include items such as perfumes, hair sprays, air fresheners, and paints) emit the same amount of chemical vapors as petroleum emissions from cars — even though 15 times more petroleum is burned as fuel.”

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, minor VOC side effects can include irritation and headaches, with major effects to the kidney, liver, nervous system and possibly cancer.

The story concluded that “In the meantime, consider spritzing sparingly or switching to essential oils.”

The ScienceDirect article referenced in Allure (“Residential Exposure to Volatile Organic Compounds and Lung Function: Results from a Population-based Cross-Sectional Survey)” was done in Canada.

Eighty-four VOCs found in common products were evaluated (elevated indoor air levels of ten VOCs were associated with significant reductions in measures of lung function). These include decanal, 2-furancarboxaldehyde, hexanal, nonanal, octanal, benzene, styrene, α-pinene, 2-methyl-1,2-butadiene and naphthalene.

The study said: “VOCs are ubiquitous in the indoor environment and exposure to VOCs indoors may have potentially important implications for human health.”

“The results of this study suggest that indoor residential exposure to VOCs may have adverse effects on respiratory health, as indicated by the association between the levels of some VOCs and decrements in lung function, particularly in the younger age group (under 17 years).”

The study concluded: “Fortunately, most VOC exposure arises from indoor sources such as combustion sources, dry cleaning, paints, glues, solvents, new building materials, personal care products and room deodorizers, some of which can be controlled by simple measures. For example, room deodorizers and perfumes can also be easily avoided.”

Do VOCs have anything to do with the rise of asthma?

Here is what is known. According to the NCBI Asthma has emerged as a major public health problem in the United States over the past 20 years. Currently, nearly 15 million Americans have asthma, including almost 5 million children. The number of asthma cases has more than doubled since 1980.

“Asthma in children did not start to increase until 1960, but by 1990 it had clearly increased to epidemic numbers in all countries where children had adopted an indoor lifestyle. There are many features of the move indoors that could have played a role; these include: increased sensitization to indoor allergens, diet, and decreased physical activity as well as the effects of prolonged periods of shallow breathing.”

The study asked: “What is still unknown?” and concluded “Which consequences of the move indoors were most important to the rise in asthma: i) increased sensitization to indoor allergens ii) long periods of time spent sitting with inadequate expansion of the lungs: iii) changes in diet?”

How pervasive are fragranced cleaners, room deodorizers and air freshener sprays?

A New York Times August 2017 story “When a Scented Candle Just Won’t Do” reported that “The home fragrance market is a $6.4 billion business at the retail level, according to a 2016 study by Kline, a market research and consulting firm in Parsippany, N.J. . . . the company calculated that 73 percent of Americans used room deodorizers and air freshener sprays last year; the figure is poised to hit 77 percent by 2020.”

From the NCBI Air Quality Atmos Healthy 2016 story “Fragranced Consumer Products: Exposure and Effects from Emission”  wrote “Fragranced consumer products, such as cleaning supplies, air fresheners and personal care products are a primary source of indoor air pollutants and personal exposure.

“Previous research indicates that fragranced products can trigger adverse health effects. . .”

The abstract notes that even green or organic fragranced products can “emit a range of volatile organic compounds, including hazardous air pollutants, but relatively few are disclosed to the public.”

“Of the general population surveyed, 46.4 percent were not aware that a fragrance in a product is typically a chemical mixture of several dozen to several hundred chemicals, and 64.6 percent were not aware that fragrance chemicals do not need to be fully disclosed on the product label or material safety data sheet.

“Further, 67.3 percent were not aware that fragranced products typically emit hazardous air pollutants such as formaldehyde, and 72.6 percent were not aware that even so-called natural, green, and organic fragranced products typically emit hazardous air pollutants.

“However, 60.1 percent would not use a fragranced product if they knew it emitted hazardous air pollutants.”

Although there is not direct correlation in any of the studies between VOCs and the increase in pediatric asthma, there are at least 10 studies that show that fragranced products have adverse health effects, such as migraine headaches, asthma attacks, respirator difficulties, neurological problems, mucosal symptoms and contact dermatitis.

There is no law in the U.S. that requires the disclosure of all the ingredients in fragranced consumer products. (Visit: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5093181/)

On Nextdoor, several people responded to the resident, Jon Marcus who had made the comment “Is anyone else getting a headache from the chemical scent that Caruso is venting in the air? Their concierge calls it a signature scent, but it’s really just chemicals.”

One said “Seriously – do you guys read what you write..who cares? no-one makes you go there. Do you have lives? Chill.” Another person commented, “People are complaining about the sights, sounds and now the smells…What else? Give it a rest or don’t come.”

Circling the News contacted Marcus in December.

“I like the Village,” he said. “I just don’t know why Caruso has to spray that stuff.”

(Editor’s note: Marcus had done his own research on VOC’s and that can be found at:

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