The Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) was an NSF funded  program designed to engage PhD students in collaborative interdisciplinary research. There were programs at universities all across the country that spanned a wide range of themes. The theme of the IGERT program I was a member of was “responding to rapid environmental change,” which included climate change, as well as other recent human influenced changes to the environment like habitat loss or induction of invasive species. As part of this program, I was partnered with four other grad students from different fields including social science, environmental economics, human ecology, and restoration ecology. Together we formed an interdisciplinary team charged with coming up with a research project that fit the theme of our IGERT, responding to rapid environmental change.

After taking a variety of interdisciplinary courses to prepare us, and much deliberation, we decided to conduct a study on fragrance chemicals in personal care products. In the last few decades the use of fragrance chemicals in personal care (e.g. shampoo, lotion etc.) and household (e.g. laundry detergent, dish soap etc.) products has increased dramatically 1,2. Many fragrance chemicals have negative impacts on people and wildlife 3,4,5,6,7, yet there is little to no regulation on which chemicals can be included in consumer products. Because fragrances are a “trade secret” companies are not required to list fragrance chemicals in the list of ingredients on packaging 8. While more research is needed to figure out the full impact of these chemicals on humans and environment, one thing is clear: fragrance chemicals are pervasive in the environment. They are found in the air, sediment, sewage effluent, animal tissues, and all sorts of waterways3,9,10,11. They are also found in humans in breast milk, blood, and adipose fat tissue 12,13,14.

As an emerging environmental and human health issue that affects nearly everyone whether they realize it or not, we wanted to focus on understanding how people are making choices about which personal care products they use and if they were aware of fragrance chemicals as a potential hazard. To do this we created a nationwide survey designed to assess how people’s beliefs and values concerning personal health, environmental stewardship, government regulation, and emerging environmental issues influenced their patterns of use and perceptions of fragranced personal care products.

You can see a video of a lecture we gave on our work at the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center here.


1 – Somogyi LP,  Kishi A. 2001. Aroma chemicals and the flavor and fragrance industry. SRI International. 2 – Leffingwell and Associates. (2012). Flavor and Fragrance Industry Leaders: 2008-2012 Estimated Sales Volumes in Millions. http://www.leffingwell.com/top_10.htm. 3 – Gooding MP et al.  2006. Toxicity of synthetic musks to early life stages of the freshwater mussel lampsilis cardium. Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology 51:549-558. 4 – Badawy MEI et al.. 2010. Acaricidal and quantitative structure activity relationship of monoterpenes against the two-spotted spider mite, tetranychus urticae. Experimental and Applied Acarology 52:261-274. 5 – Steinberg P et al. 1999. Acute hepatotoxicity of the polycyclic musk. Toxicology Letters 111:151-160. 6 – Steinemann AC et al. 2011. Fragranced consumer products: Chemicals emitted, ingredients unlisted. Environmental Impact Assessment Review 31:328-333. 7 -Wollenberger L et al. 2003. Inhibition of larval development of the marine copepod acartia tonsa by four synthetic musk substances. The Science of the Total Environment 305:53-64. 8 – Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act (Public Law No. 75-717, 52 Stat. 1040, codified at 21 U.S.C. §§ 321-397 (2000), 21 C.F.R. § 701.3 (a)). 9 – Peck AM, Hornbuckle KC. 2006. Synthetic musk fragrances in urban and rural air of iowa and the great lakes. Atmospheric Environment 40:6101-6111. 10 – Peck AM, Linebaugh EK, Hornbuckle KC. 2006. Synthetic musk fragrances in lake erie and lake ontario sediment cores. Environmental Science & Technology 40:5629-5635. 11 – Gatermann R et al. 1999. Polycyclic and nitro musks in the environment: A comparison between canadian and european aquatic biota. Chemosphere 38:3431-3441. 12 – Leibel B et al. 2000. Transition of nitro musks and polycyclic musks into human milk. Adv Exp Med Biol 478:289-305. 13 – Kannan K et al. 2005. Polycyclic musk compounds in higher trophic level aquatic organisms and humans from the united states. Chemosphere 61:693-700. 14 -Rimkus GG, Rimkus B, Wolf M. 1994. Nitro musks in human adipose-tissue and breast-milk. Chemosphere 28:421-432.


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