Impact on Asthma
Fragrances have chemical ingredients that can be an irritant/trigger for asthma. This includes fragrances that you wear — perfume, cologne, etc. — but also products that include scents, such as air fresheners, candles, and other wax-based products, soaps, shampoos, and cleaning products. Chemicals produced from furnishings such as carpeting and rugs can also be asthma triggers and create or worsen other respiratory problems. Many people also suffer from multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS) that include a range of reactions to the chemicals in scented products, from headaches and nausea, to shortness of breath and respiratory problems. Adopting fragrance-free policies and practices helps to prevent asthma symptoms and other health reactions, and has the added benefit of not hiding other indoor air quality problems, such as moldy or harmful odors. Problems with mold, chemicals, and odors need to be uncovered and addressed to improve indoor air quality.
Any fragrance policy should address all areas of the school/district, such as offices and classrooms; make clear what is considered a fragrance product; and be applied to all staff, parents, visitors, and students.
Sample Fragrance-free School Policy, American Lung Association: Includes guidance on prohibited products, or safer use of specific products (e.g., during off-peak school hours, background on health effects, and recommended ways to provide notice of the policy).
Create signage as a reminder not to block airflow from vents in the classroom, so that air can circulate and any potential irritants can quickly dissipate.
Inform people about the policy and its positive impact on indoor air quality and health. Ensure that all staff, parents, visitors, and students are aware of the policy, and what it means in terms of the scented products that people use. A fragrance-free policy goes beyond what is intuitive to most people, such as perfume and cologne; it also includes air fresheners and scented cleaning products. Communicate through staff/parent/student handbooks, signage, letters, emails, etc.
Resources & Tools
Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) Fact Sheet, Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Bureau of Environmental Health: MCS symptoms, causes, and what you can do.
Clean Air is Odor-free: Removing Fragrances to Improve Indoor Air Quality in Schools and Offices, Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Bureau of Environmental Health: Background on the health concerns of the use of scented products, and steps and tips for improving indoor air quality.
Think Dirty App, Think Dirty: An easy-to-use mobile app that helps identify products that have potential asthma/MCS triggers in them.