Smell of death: 99K Europeans die each year from toxic household fumes, study says

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Air fresheners and scented candles are supposed to improve the smell of a room, but a new report finds that these kind of household products are actually silent killers which could be responsible for nearly 100,000 deaths across Europe every year.

Researchers in the UK found that many domestic products, including anti-insect sprays, deodorants, and cleaning products, contain chemicals known as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) which can cause cancer, particularly in children and elders.

"Every Breath We Take: The Lifelong Impact of Air Pollution" details how VOCs start off in a solid or liquid state, but then evaporate to pollute the air inside of homes.

High levels of a VOC called limonene, which can become the carcinogen formaldehyde when mixed with other airborne elements, have been found in numerous household products.

Researchers from the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health in London warn that the public is largely unaware of this kind of pollution and its hazards, concluding that indoor air pollution may have caused or contributed to 99,000 deaths annually in Europe.

"Examples include the adverse effects of air pollution on the development of the fetus, including lung and kidney development, and miscarriage; increases in heart attacks and strokes for those in later life; and the associated links to asthma, diabetes, dementia, obesity and cancer for the wider population," the report explains.

It adds that certain furniture, fabric, furnishings, glue, and insulation can all emit formaldehyde vapor.

Concern has also been raised over the dangers posed by carbon monoxide leaking from faulty boilers and heaters, as well as nitrogen oxides emitted from heating and cooking appliances.

Such indoor pollution is worsened by people trying to reduce their energy bills by installing more insulation and reducing ventilation, researchers claim. While homes may be warmer as a result, they are also more dangerous.

"We now know that air pollution has a substantial impact on many chronic long term conditions, increasing strokes and heart attacks in susceptible individuals," said Professor Stephen Holgate, chairman of the report’s working group. "We know that air pollution adversely affects the development of the fetus, including lung development."

The team behind the report says the UK government needs to introduce tougher legislation to reduce permissible levels of harmful emissions and also pass new laws allowing local authorities to close roads, especially those near schools, when pollution levels in a particular area are too high.