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The sweet smell of success ... I think not!

Question: What's all the fuss about a little air freshener?

Answer: For fish it can be the smell of death

Many of the articles which we post on this and others forums are in response to pleas for help from worried fish keepers whose fish are dying, or at best, behaving “funny”. Our first response, and still the best advice, is to ask for a water sample and a face-to-face chat about what’s going on.

In many cases the water sample makes it fairly obvious what’s wrong, and we can offer advice on immediate action to remedy the situation and suggest how it could be avoided in the future. Sometimes the water sample is OK, and we have to rely on our detective skills during the face-to-face chat to uncover what’s happening to the fish, and this is where it get’s interesting.

We do of course cover all the obvious points, temperature, bullying, feeding, medication, additives and maintenance before broaching the often controversial point of contamination.

“Have you put anything new into the tank, rocks from the garden or beach or perhaps ‘Bogwood’ which you found?”

“No, absolutely not, I’am very careful about that!”

“What about aerosols, do you use any of those around the house?”

“No, absolutely not, I’am very careful about that!”

“So you don’t use scented candles, plug-in air fresheners, spray polish, hair spray or deodorant, and you haven’t been decorating in the house?”

“Well yes, I like to keep the house clean, tidy and smelling nice, but they’re not near the tank. Anyhow the tanks got a closed lid so it won’t affect the fish!”

AirfreshenerLet’s deal with this comment first: Yes the tank has got a closed lid, but it’s not air-tight, if it was the fish would die of suffocation, so the aerosol can get to the fish! What’s more, the fish are between 10 and 100 times more sensitive to these aerosols so if YOU can smell it the fish certainly can.

But do they do any harm? Most certainly, even in very small concentrations they affect the nervous system causing intoxication, the very reason some young people are tempted to sniff them. In slightly higher concentrations they can permanently damage the respiratory or nervous systems causing paralyses or death.

But are these dangerous substances really all that common, or am I just being alarmist? Just have a look at the packaging. Warnings vary from mild, such as “avoid prolonged contact” or “harmful if swallowed” to clear prohibitions such “do not inhale fumes”, “ensure adequate ventilation”, “avoid naked flames”, “wash hands after use”. In more serious cases the warnings will advise “Protective equipment must be worn. In the event of skin or eye contact seek immediate medical advice”

Just have a look at the back of the packaging of everyday items you have around the house and you'll be very surprised, even washing-up liquid and glass cleaner have some strange ingredients.