The Unseen Occupational Hazard At Shopping Malls

Shopping malls indoor air quality contaminants pose health risks to those with fragrance sensitivities

Shopping malls indoor air quality contaminants pose health risks to those with fragrance sensitivities

Walk into most shopping malls and you’ll find a feast for the senses. Soothing music piped in to relax; lighting meant to please. The smells from food court staples like fresh baked cookies and waffle ice cream cones are expected to rouse your appetite while scents drifting from department store cosmetic counters are emitted so as to calm and drive you to buy things. For many people, these efforts prove successful. They browse. They eat and socialize. They shop.

But for others, it is olfactory overload. The smells are making them sick. Poor IAQ is to blame.

Indoor environments are very complex places. Healthy indoor air quality (IAQ) is dependent on numerous conditions: temperature, airflow, ventilation, and source contaminants. (1) Places such as malls or department stores, where chemicals in the form of perfumes, air fresheners, and human smells are rife, the customer – more so the employee – is victim to whatever air is available at the moment. For those who suffer from even the slightest of fragrance sensitivities, compromised indoor air quality can make them sick.

What is fragrance? Simply defined, it is a combination of chemicals that gives something a distinctive smell. At the shopping mall and in stores that carry items such as perfumes and scented candles, the products are synthetic and are manufactured with chemicals and other potentially unsafe ingredients. In fact, each individual fragrance can contain 100s of different compounds. (2) The most common are those that fall into the following three categories: parabens, phthalates, and synthetic musks. (3) All of these are considered problematic to those with fragrance sensitivities. (4) Considering the high number of Americans with asthma and allergies, this is no small matter. Physical reactions vary among sufferers, of course. They can include:

• Headaches
• Brain fog
• Difficulty breathing
• Wheezing
• A tight feeling in the chest
• Worsening asthma symptoms
• Runny and stuffy nose
• Sneezing
• A skin allergy like contact dermatitis — an itchy, red rash that appears on the skin

Respiratory distress is neither the shopping experience mall owners are hoping to solicit nor one that shoppers are looking to experience. But more important than protecting the occasional shopper is for store and mall owners to consider the impact their indoor air quality has on their workforce. There are 100s of workers at each and every mall in America. Add to that number the employee count at every retail outlet and discount store that sells fragranced products. Poor IAQ means that thousands upon thousands of workers have compromised air quality. Unlike an occasional visitor, store employees are at work day after day, inhaling massive amounts of synthetic odors. Storeowners and management personnel need to find that sweet spot between an inviting atmosphere for their customers and one that is environmentally safe for everyone who spends time in their places of business.

Providing a completely fragrance-free environment is neither realistic nor plausible to enforce. But through reasonable environmental air cleaning efforts, both workers and patrons can be protected from potential health risks.

At Air Systems Inc., we serve our customers in building management and the retail industry by providing indoor air quality management solutions in addition to stellar IAQ products.

Contact us today for a free air quality assessment with one of our skilled and experienced environmental specialists.