Home a Big Smog Source
By Gary Polakovic, LA Times, 9 March, 2003
Even before the chemicals escape into the
environment, they contribute to indoor air pollution, which typically is
more dangerous than smog because the chemicals concentrate nearer to
Cleansers, cosmetics and other products
pump 100 tons of pollutants daily into the Southland's air, ranking second
to tailpipe emissions, studies show.
Ordinary household products such as
cleansers, cosmetics and paints are now the Los Angeles region's
second-leading source of air pollution, after auto tailpipe emissions, air
quality officials say.
Regulators have long known that
smog-forming chemicals escape with every squirt of antiperspirant, each
bubble of detergent and every spritz of aerosol hair spray. And they have
been controlling some products' emissions for years, with mixed success.
But new research shows that products common in kitchens, bathrooms and
garages contribute more to Southern California's smog problem than
"It's the same stuff that comes out of a
tailpipe or a smokestack," said Jerry Martin, a spokesman for the
California Air Resources Board. "We're talking hundreds of different kinds
of products, stuff everyone uses. It's almost one secret area of emissions
that you don't hear about and no one talks about."
The offending items include detergents,
cleaning compounds, glues, polishes, floor finishes, cosmetics, perfume,
antiperspirants, rubbing alcohol, room fresheners, car wax, paint and lawn
On a typical day, about 108 tons of
smog-forming fumes are emitted from such products used in houses and small
businesses in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District released those estimates
last month as part of a new comprehensive plan to cut smog and haze in the
Consumer products send out nearly twice
as many hydrocarbons -- a key precursor to ozone -- as all of the SUVs and
light trucks operating in California.
Across the L.A. region, household
chemicals produce nearly three times more smog-forming compounds than all
of the factories in the area and five times more than gasoline stations,
according to air-quality officials.
As other polluters make deep cuts in
emissions, the proportion of fumes from consumer products is increasing.
By 2020, emissions are projected to grow by 15%, overtaking cars and
trucks as the region's biggest contributor to smog, the AQMD says.
"The regulations we have in place today
are just barely offsetting growth, but not making any net progress," said
Elaine Chang, deputy executive officer of the South Coast Air Quality
"There are just so many people here. Each
can or product is very small, but when you look at the numbers of them
being sold, collectively it is harmful to the environment."
Polluting products come in sprays and
gels, foam and aerosol, and rely on chemicals to propel them out of a
container or as a medium to convey an active ingredient, which may itself
pollute. About 90% of the contents of an aerosol can of deodorant, for
example, are chemical propellants that contribute to smog.
Household items contain
fluorocarbons, ethanol, butane, acetone, phenols and xylene.
They evaporate readily and, when the sun shines, combine
with other pollutants to form ozone, a primary component of smog that can
cause headaches, chest pain and even loss of lung function. The L.A.
region is the nation's ozone capital.
But even before the chemicals escape into
the environment, they contribute to indoor air pollution, which typically
is more dangerous than smog because the chemicals concentrate nearer to
"They are the same solvents that are used
in industry to degrease and do other things," said Kaye Kilburn, professor
of internal medicine at USC's Keck School of Medicine. "When they
evaporate, they are transported directly to the brain, where they can be
as intoxicating as ether or chloroform. These are palpably dangerous to
Consumer products are coming under
increasing scrutiny from state and local regulators. Gov. Gray Davis
recently authorized the Air Resources Board, which has authority over
consumer products, to collect $10 million in fees from manufacturers to
help fund programs to reduce emissions.
The air board proposes two new
regulations, one for 48 categories of products, including hair care
products, body wipes and nail polish, and one to amend rules governing
other products. The measures, scheduled for adoption by 2008, would trim
up to 40 tons of emissions daily, less than 15% of the statewide total.
In Los Angeles, air quality officials
seek to slash the emissions by 80% in the next seven years, double the
rate of control over the last decade. Without the reduction, it is
unlikely Southern California will achieve the federal ozone standard by
2010 as required by the Clean Air Act.
AQMD officials are seeking new powers to
require that Los Angeles-area businesses use only the cleanest available
products. As a last resort, Chang said, the district might consider
banning use of some products during summer, when emissions are most likely
to contribute to ozone.
California has a mixed record when it
comes to cutting emissions. State officials began regulating the products
in 1989, and those pioneering efforts set the standards adopted by other
states and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Overall emissions, however, have been
reduced by 37% -- modest compared with some other major pollutants -- in
part because many types of products have gone unregulated.
"We need to do more because we still have
unhealthful air and we won't be able to reach the [air quality] standards
unless we regulate these categories further," said Catherine Witherspoon,
executive officer of the state air board. "It's very important. Those
[products] have to be the focus of our regulatory effort."
Cleanup will not be easy. Although
environmentalists are pushing for swift action, industry groups downplay
the contribution that consumer products make to smog and question the need
for dramatic cuts.
Industry closely watches California
because actions affecting the state's huge market for consumer products
could force companies to reformulate the same products nationwide. At
stake are more than $80 billion in sales across the country. Among the
companies affected are Procter and Gamble, S.C. Johnson, Clorox and
D. Douglas Fratz, vice president of
scientific and technical affairs for the Consumer Specialty Products
Assn., which represents about 600 companies, said he is not optimistic the
industry can cut emissions much further.
"We are under statutory mandate to get
the maximum feasible reductions. Those reductions have been fairly
substantial," Fratz said. "We're committed to working with the ARB, but it
seems unlikely there can be more reductions. Over-regulation isn't
required for us."
Industry has switched to some
substitutes, in the process cutting by half the solvent content of hair
spray, one of the worst-polluting products. But clean substitutes
sometimes cost more and some products, such as cleansers or glass
cleaners, require some chemicals to dissolve grime.
Disinfectants such as Lysol, which
air-quality officials say release seven tons of emissions throughout the
state daily, are exempt from regulation. Their germ-cutting ability was
deemed a greater health benefit than the threat to air quality.
"Solvents are necessary to deliver the
product benefits. We use the minimum amount of solvent needed to remove
the soil," said Chip Brewer, director of worldwide government relations
for S.C. Johnson. "We accept our responsibility to work with the
regulators to make progress, but there's no magic bullet here. We try to
innovate, look at the ingredients, work with new technologies, but
consumers like product variety. They like different product forms."
Environmentalists say industry has tied
the hands of California regulators. A key exemption lobbyists wrote into
state law prohibits the state air board from approving regulations "which
require the elimination of a product form." That means air-quality
officials cannot ban harmful chemicals from consumer products as they
would for other industries.
"That's really handcuffed the state from
controlling some significant sources of pollution," said Tim Carmichael,
executive director of the Los Angeles-based Coalition for Clean Air.
"For example, if a company makes a spray
deodorant that is more polluting than a roll-on, the ARB cannot require
only the roll-on to be sold."
A backlash against some of California's
existing regulations is fresh in the minds of officials too. No pollution
control measure in the Los Angeles region has drawn more litigation than
rules requiring low-solvent paints. A 1990 measure requiring low-polluting
charcoal lighter fluid infuriated political conservatives, who rallied
around the slogan "use a barbecue, go to jail" and charged that
air-quality officials were engaged in social engineering.
Consumer products now rank as a major
source of air pollution in the Southland. All figures are in tons of
hydrocarbons emitted daily: