Air fresheners in the home – Professor Alastair Lewis investigates
Wednesday, 27 January 2016 at 10:46:AM
Analytical expert and long-time Markes customer Alastair Lewis has again waved the flag for analytical chemistry by featuring in the 4th series of BBC Two’s highly popular investigative documentary Trust Me, I’m a Doctor.
The latest programme (Episode 2), first aired on 13 January,
describes the results of an investigation into the chemicals present in indoor
air where fragranced products are used. The programme can be seen on YouTube (skip to 15:30 minutes for the
relevant clip), and at the time of writing is still available on the BBC’s iPlayer.
Chemicals from air
The team focused on the limonene common in air fresheners,
and found that levels at six houses correlated with the amounts of the
hazardous pollutant formaldehyde, which is generated when limonene reacts with
The news has of course been highlighted in predictable style by the Daily Mail,
and in a
more objective piece by The
Telegraph, which quotes him as saying “The really surprising thing is
just how high the concentrations of some fragrances are now in people’s homes
…Fragrance chemicals now completely dominate the inside of most homes.” Full results
are available on the programme’s webpage.
The programme shows canisters being deployed, which were set
to sample air over a period of five days. Sadly the analytical equipment used doesn’t
feature in the programme, so you will have to take our word for it that monitoring limonene and the other VOCs used one of our CIA Advantage
instruments with gas chromatography. Well, the important stuff always happens
behind the scenes, doesn’t it?
Can houseplants help?
A particularly interesting aspect of the work was the
deployment of houseplants to see if these might help to absorb some of the pollutants. Despite the shift into autumn raising levels of other VOCs in this second
experiment because of the reduced air circulation (and perhaps the increased
use of scented candles), formaldehyde levels actually decreased.
This is line with previous research that highlights the
potential of houseplants to ‘mop up’ indoor pollutants – one such paper by Kwang Jin Kim and team in South Korea uses our UNITY Air Server to
investigate uptake of toluene.
All fascinating stuff, and we’re particularly pleased that Alastair
Lewis is showing the relevance of analytical chemistry to everyday life – as
he’s done in the past with the public understanding of atmospheric chemistry
(see these videos from the organisation Sensing Change)… and we’ve been doing
ourselves with our analytical chemistry awareness campaign. We look forward to hearing of his next endeavour!
David Barden received his
Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from Cambridge University in 2004, and during his
time as an editor at the RSC wrote news pieces for Chemistry World on various
scientific topics. He is now Technical Copywriter at Markes International,
where he draws on the expertise of his colleagues to explain how new thermal
desorption and mass spectrometry technologies can be applied to analyse
volatile organic compounds in a wide variety of situations.