Harmful scents remain a problem in middle school

PLEASANT SMELL. Air freshners like this one are common in many classrooms. They can cause problems for students with allergies or asthma.

Meredith Mooney

PLEASANT SMELL. Air freshners like this one are common in many classrooms. They can cause problems for students with allergies or asthma.

By Meredith Mooney, John Sevier Middle School

It’s hard not to love something that smells great, whether it is lotion that smells like flowers, soap that smells like clean laundry, or hand sanitizer that smells like morning air. What if these lovely fragrances are harming you or those around you?

Many students and teachers at Sevier use scented products.

“I use scented lotions, perfumes, and I also have candles in my home,” Norie-Anne Young, an eighth grade teacher, said. “I use essential oils, and scented detergents.”

Marci Mims, a seventh grade student, agreed.

“I use perfume, but rarely,” she said. “I normally use them when going places.”

Most people assume fragrances are 100% natural, but that’s hardly the case.

“I have witnessed my grandfather have an attack in church because of a woman wearing perfume,” Rachel Hayes, a sixth grade teacher, said. “It was very scary, and the woman had no idea she was the reason for the attack.”

Before the school closure, Sevier principal Holly Flora made several announcements warning students to limit their use of scented products.

“I’m glad she [made the announcement],” Mims said. “[I am] sad at the same time. It covered up the B.O. smell.”

Young agreed.

“[I] think it was in response to people overspraying in the hall and bathrooms,” she said.

In some cases, these scents can become distracting.

“I have had a whole classroom distracted because someone was using scented hand sanitizer and everyone wanted to know what the smell was,” Hayes said.

Over-use of these chemically scented products can cause damage to students’ bodies. Some reactions that happen at school can include allergies or sneezing. In the long run, fragrances can contain hazardous ingredients that leave lasting impacts.

Most fragrances contain phthalates, which are used to make the scent last longer. It also can disrupt the users’ hormones, sometimes causing cancer and hormone imbalances. Phthalates are even banned in countries like Japan, South Korea, China, Canada, and the European Union.

Many fragrances also have octoxynol. This is an environmental toxin and a trigger for many allergies, and causes skin and lung irritation.

Both phthalates and octoxynol scored a 10 out of 10 in the “Environmental Working Group” Skin Deep test. This means that they are hazardous and can be toxic.

How can manufacturers get away with these substances in their products? One word: fragrance.

According to Nature’s Compliments, the word ‘fragrance’ is used on labels to cover up over 4,000 chemicals.

The companies producing these fragrances fear that if they were to put specific ingredients on the labels, like phthalates or octoxynol, no one would buy their products..

Phthalates were first used in 1920 and started to be used in nearly every scented product by 1931. According to the “Baseline of Health Foundation”, the mortality rate of cancer spiked in the 1930s and 1940s, just around the time when phthalates were most common.

The problem with these chemicals is that they pass easily from the skin into the blood.

“I wouldn’t risk myself or others like that,” Mims said.

Most people are less worried about cancer or toxicity of these chemicals, and more worried about allergies.

“If [scented products] are enclosed in a classroom, it is distracting, as it can give people headaches, nausea, and allergy problems,” Young said.

Hayes agreed.

“I think we have a greater risk for an asthma attack or headache from the scented product than getting cancer, which is worrisome enough,” Hayes said.

This story was originally published on The Sequoyah Scribe on October 20, 2020.