Written on: October 1, 2021 by Nicholas Georges
I saw a tagline recently for an article in The Colorado Sun that said, “The home is the new tailpipe.”i The article was about new research on air quality from the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), a partnership of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the University of Colorado Boulder. While it might be a stretch to compare emissions from tailpipes to the volatile organic compound (VOC) content of consumer and personal care products, it’s still important to be aware of this new research.
The researchers at CIRES have published two new studies: Secondary Organic Aerosols from Anthropogenic Volatile Organic Compounds Contribute Substantially to Air Pollution Mortalityii and Volatile Chemical Product Emissions Enhance Ozone & Modulate Urban Chemistry.iii
CIRES is the same research group that published a studyiv in 2018 questioning the California Air Resources Board’s (CARB) VOC regulatory framework.
These studies continue to purport that consumer products are responsible for half of the petrochemical VOCs emitted in major urban areas. We know that emissions from mobile sources have decreased, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that other sources have become more prevalent in the total emission inventory.
However, the California Emissions Projection Analysis Model (CEPAM), which uses CARB survey data, doesn’t show consumer products making up half of all emissions.v While the automotive industry should be applauded for its work at reducing mobile emissions, CARB noted, as part of the Initial Statement of Reasonsvi for its most recent rulemaking, that consumer products have reduced VOC emissions by about 50% between 1990 and 2020 relative to uncontrolled levels. This shows that the consumer products industry has also made great strides to reduce the potential environmental impact of its products.
We can quibble over aspects from both studies, including certain assumptions made by the researchers and their choice to use surrogate and tracer chemistries, which the Household & Commercial Products Association (HCPA) believes is the reason the VOC contribution from consumer products was overestimated. However, we cannot dispute the soundness of their methodology to measure emissions or the potential implications of the research on existing regulatory approaches.
This research highlights areas that need further investigation and improved understanding, such as secondary organic aerosols and other photochemical products that can cause impacts beyond ground-level ozone. For many years, the consumer products industry has worked collaboratively with legislators, regulators, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other stakeholders to significantly improve air quality in California and across the U.S., investing hundreds of millions of dollars into researching new chemistry, developing formulations and manufacturing products that have a smaller environmental impact. However, with a growing global population and growing middle classes in developing nations, companies must continue to improve and innovate—not just the chemistry of products and how they relate to air quality, but how they contribute to sustainability overall.
HCPA remains committed to working with all stakeholders to ensure that consumer and commercial products meet rigorous emissions standards to improve air quality, while also helping consumers and workers live cleaner, healthier and more productive lives. For more information about these efforts, please contact me at [email protected]. SPRAY
i Booth, Michael.“Colorado’s bad air includes fumes from sunscreen, bug spray & hand lotion.” coloradosun.com, The Colorado Sun, 12 August 2021, link
ii Nault, B.A.et al.: Secondary organic aerosols from anthropogenic volatile organic compounds contribute substantially to air pollution mortality, Atmos.Chem.Phys., 21, 11201–11224, 2021.
iii Coggon, M.M.et al.: Volatile chemical product emissions enhance ozone and modulate urban chemistry, PNAS, 118 (32), 2021.
iv McDonald, B.C.et al.: Volatile chemical products emerging as largest petrochemical source of urban organic emissions, Science, 359, 760–764, 2018.
v CEPAM SIP 2019 v1.01.CEPAM: 2016 SIP—Standard Emission Tool. Emission Projection by Emission Inventory Code (EIC).Revised June 18, 2020.
vi Available here.