New Hampshire, whose state motto is “live free or die,” has a new champion in state representative Michele Peckham, who thinks that her constituents should live free of the consequences of other people’s poor decisions. The politican is the primary sponsor of House Bill 1444, a piece of legislation that would ban state employees from wearing perfume or scented products on the job, particularly if they deal with the public. “It may seem silly, but it’s a health issue,” Peckham tells the New Hampshire Union Leader. “Many people have violent reactions to strong scents.”
SMELL YA LATER
For people with allergies or chemical sensitivities, strong fragrances are more than an annoyance; they can result in headaches, nausea, wheezing, or other respiratory issues. But if Peckham’s bill passes, it could produce another side effect: reducing New Hampshire residents’ exposure to the myriad hormone-disrupting chemicals that many artifical fragrances contain.
Because of a loophole in federal law, perfume manufacturers don’t have to declare the ingredients that make up their chemical cocktails. This includes phthalates, a class of estrogen-like substances linked to developmental abnormalities, infertility, and testicular and breast cancers, according to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.
Because of a loophole in federal law, perfume manufacturers aren’t required to declare the ingredients that make up their chemical cocktails.
As early as 1986, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences pegged fragrance ingredients as one of six categories of neurotoxins that should be investigated for their impact onf human health. Although the research was never funded, the EU’s Scientific Committee on Cosmetic Products and Non-food Products found that one in every 50 people may become sensitized to and suffer immune system damage from those same ingredients. It also lists fragrances among the top five known allergens to cause and trigger asthma attacks.
Peckham introduced the bill after a constituent complained of seizures that worsened in the presence of fragrances. “One out of five people in the world has a sensitivity to fragrances that can cause either mild or severe systems, depending on who you are,” she adds.
In 2008, a state employee sued the city of Detroit after a co-worker’s perfume made it hard for her to breathe and do her job.
Although opponents of the bill accuse Peckham of inhibiting freedom of expression—a big deal in the “live free or die” state—it’s not without precedent. In 2008, a state employee named Susan McBride invoked the Americans With Disabilities Act to sue the city of Detroit, claiming that a co-worker’s perfume made it hard for her to breathe and do her job. The city awarded McBride with a $100,000 settlement and a city ordinance against scented body products.
This won’t be the last time you’ll get a whiff of Peckham’s bill. It’s currently under review by the Constitutional Review and Statutory Recodification Committee and must still go through the State Senate before it’s passed.