By: Prof Dzulkifli Abdul Razak
Being cleaner may not necessarily mean being healthier.
This is the one of the massages form a recent study on aerosols and air freshners conducted by Bristol University in the UK last week.
This is especially so for pregnant women and their babies as a result of exposures to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are normally released by such products.
They can cause diarrhoea and earache in infants and headaches and depression the mothers, according to the study, available in Archives of Environmental Health. The finding is in tandem with past research that indicated these chemicals could cause some form of illnesses and allergies.
VOCs (www.epa.gov/iaaq/voc.html) have irritating properties linked to solvents, paints, furnishings and cleaning items used indoors. Similarly too, air fresheners, aerosols and sprays.
The study dubbed, the Children Of The 90s, involved interviews with 10,000 mothers and visits to homes of 170 children to study the use of such products.
It also followed the health and development of 14,000 children since before birth.
According to the study, mothers who used air fresheners and aerosol daily ad nearly 10 per cent more headaches and were about 26 per cent more likely to experience depression.
And 32 per cent more babies had diarrhoea, compared with homes that use air fresheners weekly. Reportedly, some are likely to experience earache. Pregnant women and babies may be more susceptible since they spend more time at home.
In addition, the use of aerosols such as polis, deodorant and hairspray on a daily basis was said to effect the health of the mothers, and with a 30 per cent increase in infant cases of diarrhoea, and to a lesser extent a rise in vomiting.
The use of the various products in combination will result in more complicated effects due to an even more a complex mixture of chemicals.
While more studies would be needed to further document the health implications and understand the mechanisms, it is however advisable to limit the use of such items in the home.
Most of the products could be regarded as non-essential and, therefore, be used sparingly if not totally avoided.
Others suggest natural alternatives, such as squeezing lemons, or simply using natural means of ventilation.
In other words, we may have to re-learn some of the indigenous techniques of how to remain clean and healthy, without having to depend on harmful VOCs. If we have to do so, check the labels on the products and choose one that is certified safe.
The writer is the vice-chancellor of Universiti Sains Malaysia.