Five people who fell ill after inhaling a pumpkin spice scented aerosol at a Baltimore, Maryland, high school were hospitalized Thursday, Oct. 5
Students and faculty at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School told the Baltimore Sun that they noticed an unusual smell emanating from the third floor. The strange odor “appeared to be getting stronger” as the minutes passed, said school president Bill Heiser.
Before long, several students and teachers started to experience respiratory distress, including difficulty breathing, headaches and gastrointestinal problems.
Mr. Heisman ordered an evacuation of the school and called the Baltimore Fire Department. First responders promptly ordered a hazmat team to test the school environment for toxic substances.
Meanwhile, five people were sent to the hospital with “ailing stomachs,” Baltimore fire spokesman Roman Clark told the Baltimore Sun.
All hazardous materials tests came back negative, but firefighters eventually honed in on the source of the smell: a pumpkin spice scented aerosol plug-in. The air freshener was removed from the building and firefighters opened the windows to air out the school.
According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI), air fresheners are “a much bigger problem than people realize. About 20 percent of the population and 34 percent of people with asthma report health problems from air fresheners. We know air freshener fragrances can trigger allergy symptoms, aggravate existing allergies and worsen asthma.”
The group warns that while the products may smell nice, they contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and are just masking odors in the home, not eliminating them. VOCs commonly found in air fresheners include formaldehyde, petroleum distillates, limonene, esters, and alcohols.
Livestrong.com also warns consumers about the hidden dangers of air fresheners:
For individuals who are sensitive to smells, even light scents or low exposure can cause a variety of health problems. This includes headaches, confusion, dizziness, diarrhea, fatigue, depression, anxiety, nausea and respiratory problems. Reactions can vary from mild to severe. Some products labeled “scent-free” may contain chemicals to mask the scent, which can be just as dangerous.
The same source also warns of potentially far more serious consequences, including birth defects and damage to nerves and organs.