UW study finds toxins emanating from dryer vents

Aug 25, 2011

The sweet smell from your dryer vent could contain toxic pollution.

A new study from the University of Washington found hazardous chemicals in the air after clothes were laundered with scented detergents and dryer sheets. At least two of the chemicals are considered carcinogens by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The research builds on earlier work that looked at what chemicals are released by laundry products, air fresheners, cleaners, lotions and other fragranced consumer products. Manufacturers are not required to disclose the ingredients used in fragrances, or in laundry products.

Pollution from dryer vents is unregulated…unlike emissions from smokestacks or tailpipes. Researchers attribute part of the problem to lax requirements that don’t force manufacturers to disclose ingredients.

“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,” said lead author Anne Steinemann, a UW professor of civil and environmental engineering and of public affairs.

The researchers estimate that in the Seattle area, where the study was conducted, acetaldehyde emissions from the leading brand of scented liquid laundry detergent would be equivalent to 3 percent of the total acetaldehyde emissions coming from automobiles. Emissions from the top five brands, they estimate, would constitute about 6 percent of automobiles’ acetaldehyde emissions.

“We focus a lot of attention on how to reduce emissions of pollutants from automobiles,” Steinemann said. “And here’s one source of pollutants that could be reduced.”

A first step, researchers suggest, is to start using products without fragrances.