(to which the Scandinavian customer replied: "Neither, I want it for my armpits")

19th OCTOBER 2004
The subject of this short piece is nothing new. For years we have been fed a mass of statistics masquerading as explanation or motivation for various phenomena, or proof of mechanisms that although not visible or describable must surely be deduced from the figures. But today we have a rather glorious one, as reported in The Independent and followed up by a mindless if harmless editorial comment (presumably by the current editor who manages to miss the point on many of the matters he decides to take up his pen about - sad considering it is the paper with some of the best staff and contributors in the business).

The story runs as follows:

Aerosols may harm mothers and babies
    Air fresheners and other household sprays could damage pregnant women and newborn babies, a study has found. Although the research, which links aerosols with a range of disorders in mothers and children, falls short of proving that fresheners cause ill health, scientists warn that people should use such sprays with caution.
.   The researchers found that almost a third (32 percent) [of] babies suffered diarrhoea in homes where air fresheners - including stick, sprays and aerosols - were used daily compared to households where they were used more than once a week. Babies in these households also suffered more earache.
    Other aerosols such as polish, deodorant and hairspray were linked with a 30 percent increase in diarrhoea and, to a lesser extent, vomiting in babies.
    Mothers who used air fresheners and aerosols daily were more likely to suffer headaches than women who used them less frequently, the study found. The scientists also discovered that 16 percent of mothers who used such fresheners daily were suffering from maternal depression compared with 12 percent who seldom used them. That represented an increased risk of 26 percent, they said.

There is more, of course, but nothing I saw that saves the report as a whole from the suspicion that the authors are slightly confused. The alleged 'risk' of 26 percent is itself dubious terminology. Insurance companies have one definition of risk, and would perhaps accept it here as a basis for their calculations; but that has nothing to do with any actual, objective or to use a popular but misleading phrase 'scientific' risk.

More to the point is that it is likely that a house full of vomit and diarrhoea is caused by general ill health with a variety of causes, failing digestive systems that have been wrecked by antibiotics, and inappropriate diet (recent statistics show that 42 percent of the population have not a clue what they should or should not eat). The desperate use of air fresheners, cleaners, polish and hairspray is an attempt to remove excreta and overcome odours from both objects and persons. This renders the mathematical conclusions meaningless except, as mentioned, for an insurance company estimating life-insurance risk on people who use aerosols excessively. As for the aerosols casing depression, it is little wonder these people are depressed when their digestion has gone to the dogs, their house stinks unless endlessly cleaned, polished and air-freshened, and their children are ill.

The advice given in the article, to stop worrying about an already absolutely clean home that smells of chemicals, is undoubtedly good. If it succeeds in frightening some people into stopping the use of aerosols, that is good news. They may be bad for our health, and are certainly bad for the environement - if not in their use then in the unnecessary production and recycling of the containers. But the remedy for the problem lies elsewhere.