Presentation to the Halifax Regional School Board on the Proposed Scent Policy – archive

Presentation to the Halifax Regional School Board on the Proposed Scent Policy

September 15, 1998

by: Citizens for A Safe Learning Environment


Updated: 22/10/2008

CASLE made this presentation to the Halifax Regional School Board’s public forum on the proposed Scent Free policy.  Medical experts made an additional presentation to fill out the position in favor of the Board’s passing of the Policy.  However, the effort failed despite years of committee work to draft a workable policy. A new Superintendent of Schools had just been hired and the chemical and fragrance industry presenters alluded to court action should the policy be passed. The board chose to encourage Scent Free Programs instead of passing the official policy. At last count, 85% of schools in Halifax have voluntary scent free programs.


Citizens for A Safe Learning Environment (CASLE) is an information-based, registered, non-profit Provincial organization that works hand in hand with parents, government, and school boards to improve the condition of school buildings and the products and practices used within, so that school children and school staffs have safe and healthy places in which to spend their days. We actively serve as a consulting body for several government departments. For your information and use, our library holdings are included with the N.S. department of Education’s Interdepartmental Library on Indoor Air Quality in Schools.

CASLE supports the Scent Policy developed by this Board’s Building and Environmental Management Committee. In our Province, from the Department of Education through to the individual school sites, much progress is being made toward improving Indoor Air Quality in our Schools. This change is also happening at various rates throughout North America and in other developed countries. It is being recognized that a safe and healthy environment is as important to the delivery of education as are a good curriculum and good teaching. This Board’s Scent Policy is part of that progress.

CASLE’s members were dismayed to learn that the Board’s July vote on the Scent policy had been deferred partially due to concerns over discipline issues, and partially due to information presented by SPEIAC (the Scented Products Education and Information Association of Canada).

We trust you are aware that SPEIAC represents profit-based companies that produce and sell scented products. It is natural to recThe most important thing to understand is this: the Scent-Free issue is very much one of health not one of likes or dislikes.eive opposition from the Perfume Industry, as Scent-Free Programs threaten profits and livelihoods. There are many misunderstandings about the Scent Issue evident in the SPEIAC materials, however there is no time tonight to go through it point by point. The most important thing to understand is this: the Scent-Free issue is very much one of health not one of likes or dislikes.

It is also noteworthy that the Scent-Free issues are very similar to the controversy that once surrounded the non-smoking issue. (Interestingly, the literature also shows that many of the toxic chemicals in question are the same for perfumes as for cigarettes. For example, benzene, toluene, limonene, acetone, phenols, and more.)

Another caution: SPEIAC presents the Langley Report as being the “most extensive Canadian review of what is and is not known about Environmental Hypersensitivity”. Those who are well informed on matters of Environmental Health know this to not be the case. This report has been strongly criticized by informed physicians and organizations for such faults as bias, incomplete reviewing, and selective reporting.

Contrary to the Langley Report and the SPEIAC report, there is much official recognition that Environmental Illnesses and Multiple Chemical Sensitivity are organic illnesses. For example,

The Canadian Human Rights Commission regards Environmental Illness as a disability and a medical problem. The Ontario Ministry of Health created an environmental Health Clinic at Toronto’s Women’s College Hospital. The CMHC has done much work on safe housing for the Environmentally Sensitive, and research into less toxic building materials. In Ottawa, this October, Parliament is expected to pass a Liberal Bill recognizing Environmental Illness as an organic illness deserving recognition and compensation from federal agencies. We are providing a more detailed list of official recognition in the Information Package, as well as a list of examples of Scent-Free hospitals, offices, churches, and universities.

Health Effects of Fragrance Chemicals

What the products smell like is not the health issue. Volatile fragrance chemicals are the health issue. People are often confused over this key point. Fragrances are not what they seem. The fact that the shampoo, for example, smells like strawberries is not the issue. Most fragrances are no longer made from natural substances, but are made from synthetic chemicals, some with as many as 600 chemicals in a single fragrance. The chemicals used to make our neurosensors believe we are smelling strawberries are the issue. The CHEMICALS are the health issue.

Most fragrances are no longer made from natural substances, but are made from synthetic chemicals, some with as many as 600 chemicals in a single fragrance. They are now added to multitudes of daily-use products ranging from cleaning materials and personal care products to garbage bags to toys – from lipstick to kitty litter.

In 1989 the US National Institute of Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH) identified 884 of 2,983 fragrance chemicals they evaluated as being toxic substances. Some of these were capable of causing birth defects, central nervous system disorders, cancer, eye and skin symptoms, and actually causing broad chemical sensitization (MCS).

Fragrance Chemicals are minimally tested for short term or long term health impacts. “84% of these ingredients have never been tested for human toxicity, or have been tested only minimally.” (Chemical Exposures: Low Levels and High Stakes, 1991.)

Fragrance chemicals are minimally regulated by government

According to John Baily, past director of the U.S.FDA Colors and Cosmetics Division, (the agency from which Health Canada gets much of its information) “The fragrance and cosmetic industry is the least regulated industry. There is no pre-clearing of chemicals with any agency”. Health Canada’s new Federal Cosmetics Regulations ordering “complete ingredient listing” on labels does not require a complete listing of fragrance ingredients, but only requires that the simple word “fragrance” be included on the ingredients list.

72% of asthmatics develop respiratory symptoms when exposed to perfumesSymptoms provoked by fragrances include: watery or dry eyes, blurred vision, ear pain, dizziness, vertigo, coughing, bronchitis, difficulty breathing, seizures, nausea, short term memory loss, inability to concentrate, lethargy, anxiety, irritability, depression, disorientation, incoherence, fatigue, mood swings, restlessness, (all of these can affect school performance), also sneezing, nasal congestion, sinusitis, tinnitus, difficulty swallowing, rashes, hives, eczema, flushing, muscle and joint pain, muscle weakness, irregular heartbeat, hypertension, swollen lymph glands, asthma, headaches, migraines(17% of Canadians suffer from migraines), and anaphylaxis (sometimes causing death).

In Nova Scotia, the asthma rate in school children ranges between 11 and 20% (depending on the location and the study), and others have allergies or related illnesses which are affected by fragranced products. According to the US Food and Drug Administration, 72% of asthmatics develop respiratory symptoms when exposed to perfumes. (Healthy School Handbook)

Airborne chemicals can provide particularly potent exposures

The fact that these chemicals are airborne is significant. Firstly, because there is nothing to hold airborne chemicals within a personal scent “circle”. Secondly, the nasal passages and the brain are very closely linked. Research by Dr. Iris Bell suggests that there can be a direct effect on the limbic system by toxic chemicals that enter the nose/olfactory system. Cocaine users are known to make use of this direct nasal pathway.

Being able to smell or detect the presence of fragrance chemicals is not necessary to produce health effects, however. Using commercial perfume products, Dr. Tyler Lorig (of Washington and Lee University, Lexington, Virginia) concluded in a series of studies, that “The experiments described here provide clear evidence that undetected odors alter neurophysiology and behaviour.”

Also, even without that direct nasal link, people can be affected by the fragrance chemicals. In Millqvist and Lowhagen’s placebo-controlled research, perfume was inhaled through the mouth – completely bypassing the nasal passages and olfactory system. Asthma was induced without the subjects having smelled the fragrance chemicals at all.

In your Information Packages, we have included example abstracts of studies showing that health, behaviour and learning ability of even normal people can be affected by indoor air pollution, and that perfumed products can be a significant part of that Indoor Air pollution.

Fragrances and School Indoor Air Quality

The Volatile Organic Compounds from fragranced products can add significantly to the level of Indoor Air Pollution in schools. They contribute to measurable TVOC levels (Total Volatile Organic Compound levels) as recognized by such official bodies as ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers, a trade association that sets standards for industry and government) and the US EPA and the Nova Scotia Department of Labour. (The US EPA found that the air in department stores contained more chemicals than the air in auto body shops. Also, that the most abundant chemical in perfume departments and auto body shops was toluene, a known toxic chemical. Repeated exposures to toluene can damage bone marrow, causing low blood cell count, and can damage the liver and kidneys. Toluene can cause slowed reflexes, trouble concentrating, and headaches, and may damage the developing fetus.)

It is recognized that schools have occupancy rates three to four times more per square foot than the average office building, also that most schools have sub-standard ventilation rates. Carbon Dioxide levels are frequently used as gauges of ventilation effectiveness. In many classrooms, the Co2 levels rise well above the acceptable levels on a daily basis, indicating poor ventilation and risk of increased and prolonged exposure to indoor air pollutants.

“Indoor Air Pollution is among the top four environmental risks to public.” A quote from the EPA’s publication Indoor Air Quality Basics for Schools: “The EPA studies of human exposure to air pollutants indicate that indoor levels of pollutants may be 2 to 5 times, and occasionally more than 100 times higher than outdoor levels. “Comparative risk studies performed by EPA and its Advisory Board have consistently ranked indoor air pollution among the top four environmental risks to the public.”

It goes on to say, “Children are especially susceptible to air pollution. For this reason, air quality in schools is of particular concern.” Researchers at the University of California at Irvine report children may be as much as six times as vulnerable to toxic exposures as are adults, due to such things as smaller size, immature detoxification systems, higher respiration rates, and more.

Benefits of a Scent-Free Policy

A Scent Policy can contribute to the Wellness Program underway in our Region by reducing sick time and increasing productivity of both children and staff. This can reduce costs overall and allow children to reach their full potential.

It is important that the Board also be aware of possible liability should students or staff be unprotected. For some, the effects can be as severe as an assault. We recommend enforcing the Scent policy as strongly as the non-smoking policy.

There are currently several individuals in the Halifax Regional School system who are anaphylactic to fragranced products. If only for these individuals we urge you to proceed with the Scent policy. Please also consider those with asthma, allergies, migraines, and other related health conditions, and those who are simply unable to think as clearly when breathing fragrance chemicals – thinking clearly is important in a school setting.

Scent-Free programs work best when they are based on education and community support. We already have that here. Since many schools in the Halifax Region already have voluntary scent-free programs, this policy is the next natural step. A school board policy can provide impetus for stragglers to catch up, can help provide accurate information, guidance, and consistency.

CASLE asks that the Scent Policy be passed and implemented soon, and we offer the Board our assistance in this important project.

In conclusion, fragrance chemicals are a health risk, and need to be taken seriously. Even one child sick is one child too many.

Thank You,

Citizens for A Safe Learning Environment


Sample Abstracts from Research Articles Relevant to the Perfume Issue:

Lorig TS, EEG and ERP studies of low-level odor exposure in normal subjects. Toxicology and Industrial Health, July-Oct. 1994, vol 10, No.4/5, 579-586. “Evidence from four EEG/ERP experiments is presented. Findings of these experiments consistently demonstrate the ability of low-level and undetected odours to alter neurophysiology. Behavioural and cognitive effects are also described. These data may have applicability to theories of MCS since they illustrate the possibility that low-level or undetected odours affect central nervous system activity and may precipitate or cue MCS symptoms.” (Washington & Lee University, Lexington, Virginia, 24450 USA.)

Lorig TS. et al., The effects of low concentration odours on EEG activity and behaviour. Journal of Psychophysiology, 5, 1991, 69-97. “Previous research has suggested that low concentration odours affect even when undetected by subjects. The present investigations were conducted to replicate this finding and to determine the behavioural effects of low concentration odour administration. In experiment 1, EEG data were collected while subjects were exposed to varying levels of galaxolide, a synthetic musk-like odour. Results indicated significant differences in alpha activity between the undetected odour and no odour control conditions.

Additionally, presence of the undetected odour doubled the time necessary to solve a visual search task. In experiment 2, varying levels of galaxolide were administered while ERP data were collected in an auditory odd-ball task. Amplitude of the P200, P300 component of the ERP increased as a function of odour administration. P200 was found to change during administration of the undetected condition suggesting that odours may be distracting or produce divided attention even when undetected.”

Morrow Lisa A., et. al., Alterations in Cognitive and Psychological Functioning after Organic Solvent Exposure. “Exposure to organic solvents has been linked repeatedly to alterations in both personality and cognitive functioning. To assess the nature and extent of these changes more thoroughly, 32 workers with a history of exposure to mixtures of organic solvents and 32 age and education-matched blue collar workers with no history of exposure were assessed with a comprehensive battery of neuropsychological tests. Although both groups were comparable on measures of general intelligence, significant differences were found in virtually all other cognitive domains tested (Learning and Memory, Visuospatial, Attention and Mental Flexibility, Psychomotor Speed). In addition, Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventories of exposed workers indicated clinically significant levels of depression, anxiety, somatic concerns and disturbances in thinking.

The reported psychological distress was unrelated to degree of cognitive deficit. Finally, several exposure-related variables were associated with poorer performance on tests of memory and visuospatial ability.”

Molhave L., et. al., Human Reactions to Low Concentrations of Volatile Organic Compounds. Environment International Vol. 12, 167-175. 1986, “A group of 62 human subjects were exposed for 2.75 hours to a mixture of 22 volatile Organic Compounds known to be indoor air pollutants. Three total concentrations of 0, 5, and 25 mg/m3 of the same 22 compounds were used. The subjects were all healthy and without asthma, allergy, or chronic bronchitis but claimed often to suffer from dry mucous membranes in eyes, nose, or upper airways. By using a questionnaire on 26 different air quality aspects, a significant effect of exposure was found for questions related to general air quality, odour, ability to concentrate, and/or mucous membrane irritation. Continuous evaluation of irritation in eyes, nose, and throat showed significant correlation to exposure both at 5 and 25 mg/m3. The effect was acute and showed no signs of adaptation. A digit span performance test showed decreased scores during exposure.”

Millqvist E, Lowhagen O, Placebo-controlled challenges with perfume in patients with asthma-like symptoms. Allergy, 1996, June;51(6):434-439. “A group of nine patients with respiratory symptoms after nonspecific irritating stimuli, but without any IgE-mediated allergy or demonstrable bronchial obstruction, were referred to the asthma/allergy outpatient department for evaluation of suspected asthma. In order to find a provocation model and objectively assess these patients’ symptoms in controlled studies, provocation with perfume or placebo was performed. The same patients were also subjected to perfume provocation with or without a carbon filter mask to ascertain whether breathing through a filter with active carbon could prevent the symptoms. The patients breathed through the mouth during the provocations, as they used a nasal clamp to prevent any smell of perfume. We found that the patient’s earlier symptoms could be verified by perfume provocation. The conclusion is that symptoms suggesting hyperactivity of the respiratory tract and asthma can be provoked by perfume without the presence of bronchial obstruction, and that using a carbon filter mask has no preventive effect. The symptoms are not transmitted via the olfactory nerve, since the patients could not smell the perfume, but they may have been induced by a trigeminal reflex via the respiratory tract or by the eyes.”

Jensen OC, Petersen I, Occupational Asthma caused by scented gravel in cat litter (article in Danish) Ugeskr Laeger, 1991, Mar 5:153(13):939-940. “Perfumes are now added to articles in everyday use to an increasing extent. One example of this is addition of perfume to gravel in cat toilets. It is recognized that perfumes may cause toxic and allergic skin reactions while perfume as the cause of asthma is not so well recognized. In the case described here, exposure to industrial perfume resulted in asthma on account of irritation.”

Schlueter DP, et. al., Airway response to hair spray in normal subjects and subjects with hyperreactive airways. Chest. 1979, May; 75(5):544-548. “Short-term 20-second exposure to hair sprays A and B failed to show significant decreases in maximum expiratory flow rates at low pulmonary volumes in normal subjects; however, significant decreases were observed with hair spray B in eight subjects with hyperreactive airways (abnormal response to inhalation of methacholine). On the partial flow-volume curves, flows at 40 percent and 25 percent of forced vital capacity decreased 8.9 percent to 10.3 percent and 14 to 18.7 percent, respectively. The hair sprays differed in their content of perfume and plasticizer, and since the latter is generally considered nontoxic at room temperature, the perfume may be the responsible agent. It would appear from this study that normal healthy individuals are at little risk, at least from brief exposure to hair spray; however, in presence of hyperactive airways, as seen in asthmatic subjects and in some people with allergic rhinitis and viral respiratory infections, an immediate response of the airways may result from exposure to some hair sprays.”

Kumar P, Inhalation challenge effects of perfume scent strips in patients with asthma.Ann. Allergy Asthma Immunol. 1995, Nov;75(5):429-433. “BACKGROUND: Perfume- and cologne-scented advertisement strips are widely used. There are, however, very few data on the adverse effects of perfume inhalation in asthmatic subjects. OBJECTIVES: This study was undertaken to determine whether perfume inhalation from magazine scent strips could exacerbate asthma. METHODS: Twenty-nine asthmatic adults and 13 normal subjects were included in the study. Histories were obtained and physical examinations performed. Asthma severity was determined by clinical criteria of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). Skin prick tests with common inhalant allergens and with the perfume under investigation were also performed. Four bronchial inhalation challenges were performed on each subject using commercial perfume scented strips, filter paper impregnated with perfume identical to that of the commercial strips, 70% isopropyl alcohol, and normal saline, respectively. Symptoms and signs were recorded before and after challenges. Pulmonary function studies were performed before and at 10, 20, and 30 minutes after challenges.

RESULTS: Inhalation challenges using perfume produced significant declines in FEV1 in asthmatic patients when compared with control subjects. No significant change in FEV1 was noted after saline (placebo) challenge in asthmatic patients. The percent decline in FEV1 was significantly greater after challenge in severely asthmatic patients as compared with those with mild asthma. Chest tightness and wheezing occurred in 20.7% of asthmatic patients after perfume challenges. Asthmatic exacerbations after perfume challenge occurred in 36%, 17%, and 8% of the patients with severe, moderate, and mild asthma, respectively. Patients with atopic asthma had greater decreases in FEV1 after perfume challenge when compared with patients with nonallergic asthma.


Perfume-scented strips in magazines can cause exacerbations of symptoms and airway obstruction in asthmatic patients. Severe and atopic asthma increases risk of adverse respiratory reactions to perfumes. Students Mental Performance Shows Correlation with IAQ Factors. reported by the Cutter Corporation, newsletter, 1997. excerpts: “Many people claim that poor IAQ can affect productivity in an office environment…. Even less is known about the effect that poor IAQ can have on schoolchildren, although it seems logical to assume that they are subject to the same factors and react similarly, if not more acutely, to degradation in the indoor environment.

Swedish researchers studied some secondary school buildings and then correlated their findings with reports from students on what they felt their mental performance was. The researchers studied between two and three classrooms in each of the schools, for a total of 28. After controlling for significant personal factors, researchers found that the perception of impaired mental performance correlated with building condition.”

Single Photon Emission Computerized Tomography (SPECT) Scan of MCS Patient’s Brain Before and After Challenge with Perfume Inhalation. Conducted by. I. Mena, MD , Director,Division of Nuclear Medicine, UCLA, Torrance, California. December, 1993. “In conclusion, findings suggest:

1) Diminished cerebral blood flow.

2) Bilateral frontal, temporal and parietal hypoperfusion.

3) Marked scalloping pattern of perfusion in frontal and parietal lobes.

4)Vasculitis vs. exposure to neurotoxic substances.”