It seems like EVERYTHING is dangerous these days–but dryer vents? It turns out that the scented air wafting from household laundry vents, due to scented detergent or dryer sheets, can be hazardous. Some of these products even contain chemicals that cause cancer! And manufacturers are not required to disclose the ingredients used in fragrances or laundry products.

Environmentalist Anne Steinemann says, "This is an interesting source of pollution because emissions from dryer vents are essentially unregulated and unmonitored. If they’re coming out of a smokestack or tail pipe, they’re regulated, but if they’re coming out of a dryer vent, they’re not."

Researchers first purchased and pre-rinsed new, organic cotton towels, then they asked two homeowners to volunteer their washers and dryers, cleaned the inside of the machines with vinegar, and ran full cycles using only water to eliminate as much residue as possible. At the first home, they ran a regular laundry cycle and analyzed the vent fumes for three cases: once with no products, once with the leading brand of scented liquid laundry detergent, and finally with both the detergent and a leading brand of scented dryer sheets. A canister placed inside the dryer vent opening captured the exhaust 15 minutes into each drying cycle.

Researchers then repeated the procedure with a different washer and dryer at a second home. Analysis of the captured gases found more than 25 volatile organic compounds, including seven hazardous air pollutants, coming out of the vents. Two of the chemicals–acetaldehyde and benzene–are classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as carcinogens, for which the agency has established NO safe exposure level.

Steinemann says, "These products can affect not only personal health, but also public and environmental health. The chemicals can go into the air, down the drain and into water bodies. We focus a lot of attention on how to reduce emissions of pollutants from automobiles, and here’s one source of pollutants that could be reduced." She recommends using laundry products without any fragrance or scent.

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