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'Natural' fragrances in cleaning products may spark allergies

'Natural' fragrances in cleaning products may spark allergies

Chemicals found in household products with artificial fragrances can spark allergies for people with high levels of exposure, a study has found.

Researchers behind the study published in Occupational & Environmental Medicine focused on chemical enzymes in household products which are genetically modified to resemble natural flavours and smells - an industry worth $10 billion (£7.6 billion). According to the research, the process of modification could change the products’ allergenic properties in a way that leaves humans more susceptible.

Genetically modified enzymes have been increasingly adopted by manufacturers as they have upped “natural” fragrances being added in household products like detergent, perfume and pharmaceuticals.

Researchers tested 800 workers, mainly employed in manufacturing and food processing facilities, to evaluate the effect of these chemicals. Nearly a quarter produced antibodies in response to the genetically modified enzymes, with more than a third developing symptoms of asthma or rhinitis.

The enzyme alpha amylase— found in detergents and cleaning products— was identified as producing significant results for workers exposed to it when compared to other chemicals. Almost half of workers exposed signalled an allergy in response.

“There is no doubt that good occupational hygiene practice is the most effective risk management strategy,” the study says. “But, it has to be assumed that the introduction of new enzymes might increase the risk of allergy.”

The authors caution that better methods for protecting workers from the chemicals will help address the problem.

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