YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Chemicals in Home a Big Smog Source

Cleansers, cosmetics and other products pump 100 tons of pollutants daily into the Southland's air, ranking second to tailpipe emissions, studies show.

March 09, 2003|Gary Polakovic | Times Staff Writer

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 previously thought.

"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 care products.

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 region.

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 Management District.

"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 people.

"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 health."

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.

Los Angeles Times Articles