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Hazardous chemical from scented products is polluting the Great Lakes

The Great Lakes are under emerging threat from an unnecessary long-lasting fragrance chemical. Galaxolide, a synthetic musk frequently used in those scented cleaning products that give our home that pine-fresh or lemony-smell, is getting washed down the drain, sneaking past wastewater treatment plants and is putting the Great Lakes’ delicate ecosystem as risk.

How Hazardous is Galaxolide to the Great Lakes?

To determine its hazard level, Women’s Voices for the Earth commissioned a GreenScreen® for Safer Chemicals assessment of Galaxolide. GreenScreen® is an internationally recognized tool for comparing and assessing the hazards of chemicals in order to identify those of high concern and evaluate safer alternatives.

Galaxolide was assigned a score of Benchmark 1 – this score is assigned to chemicals of the highest concern whose use should be avoided. Galaxolide earned this score specifically because of its high persistent, bioaccumulative and aquatic toxicity properties. This means that Galaxolide does not break down easily in the environment, builds up over time, and is highly toxic to fish and other aquatic creatures. And it’s ending up in our Great Lakes, simply because it is used in products to make them smell nice

The numbers are concerning:

  • One study found Galaxolide in 81% of water samples from tributaries that run through urban areas and drain into the Great Lakes.
  • Another study found the chemical in 92% of water samples from Lake Michigan in addition to airborne pollution above the lake.
  • Concentrations of Galaxolide were also found in the sediment in Lake Erie and Lake Ontario are doubling every 8-16 years.

Along with environmental concerns, Galaxolide raises red flags for human health risks. Studies show it may interfere with hormones and other chemical signals in the body which can result in developmental, reproductive, metabolic, brain, and behavior problems. And, emerging science shows that Galaxolide may break down the body’s natural defenses against other toxic chemical exposure.


Scented products don’t have to contain Galaxolide to smell nice. In fact, several major manufacturers of household cleaners have already phased out their use of Galaxolide and other synthetic musks due to the environmental and health concerns associated with these chemicals.

All companies that make cleaning products should follow suit. These companies can play a critical role in protecting the Great Lakes from further chemical pollution by eliminating Galaxolide from their products now.

Since fragrance ingredients, like Galaxolide, are not required to be disclosed on a product label or website, it can be challenging to avoid when purchasing products. Here are some quick tips:

  • Look for fragrance-free cleaning products (remember that “unscented” does not mean fragrance-free) or if you have a question about whether a fragranced product you use contains this chemical of concern, call the manufacturer and ask — if they don’t provide the answer you need, ask yourself whether or not it is a product you need, and voice your concerns about the hazards of Galaxolide.
  • Make your own cleaning products. DIY (do-it-yourself) recipes abound. Here are some to get you started.
  • Find other ways to get that “clean” smell without using fragranced cleaning products. Check out these tips for some ideas.
  1. Baldwin AK, Corsi SR, DeCicco LA, Lenaker PL, Lutz MA, Sullivan DJ and Richards KD. (2016) Organic contaminants in Great Lakes tributaries: Prevalence and potential aquatic toxicity. Science of the Total Environment. 554-555, 42-52. 2016.
  2. Peck AM and Hornbuckle KC. (2004) Synthetic Musk Fragrances in Lake Michigan. Environmental Science and Technology. Vol. 38, No.2, pp. 367-372. 2004.
  3. Peck AM, Linebaugh EK, Hornbuckle KC. (2006) Synthetic musk fragrances in Lake Erie and Lake Ontario sediment cores. Environmental Science and Technology. Vol.40, No. 18, pp:5629-35. September 15 2006.
  4. Luckenbach, T. (2005) Nitromusk and polycyclic musk compounds as long-term inhibitors of cellular xenobiotic defense systems mediated by multidrug transporters. Environmental Health Perspectives. Vol 113. Number 1. January 2005.