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Feb. 27, 2018

Green Supply Chain News: Dozens of Household Products May Be Releasing Dangerous Fumes – as Much as Cars Emit


Volatile Organic Compounds Produced by Staggering Number of Products, especially from Compounds Listed as Fragrances in the Ingredients

By The Green Supply Chain Editorial Staff

Your greening your supply chain, moving towards renewable energy sources, pressuring suppliers to reduce their own CO2 emissions and water usage and more.

But to be a sustainable company, many firms may need to start looking in the mirror at the products they produce. They may be emitting high levels of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs.

The Green Supply Chain Says:
Will we start seeing VOC reduction targets coming from consumer goods and other companies?

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What are VOCs? They are a class of pollutants that get into the air and cause a wide range of health problems. Some of them are inherently toxic, causing irritation, headaches and nausea when breathed in. Other VOCs start out benign but produce ozone, which can trigger asthma attacks, when they are exposed to another type of air pollution. When some VOCs are exposed to sunlight, they produce particulate matter, which is linked to heart attacks and premature death.

Until recently, it was generally assumed that nearly all VOCs were produced by exhaust from cars and trucks. But now news from the journal Science, in which a team of researchers including Jessica Gilman, a chemist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, says that a wide range of household goods, including paint, inks, cleaning products, fragrances, nail polishes, hair sprays and more, now emit about as many VOCs as cars do in US metro areas.

The list of products that produce VOCs is staggeringly long.

"The type of products are pretty much everything you would think of if you look under the kitchen sink, on the shelf in your garage, or in your bathroom," Gilman recently told The Atlantic magazine. "They're soaps, shampoos, lotions, cleaning products, as well as degreasers, adhesives, ink, house paints."

But despite the range of products, there appears to be one common denominator: fragrances. It turns out there are 2,000 different VOCs that could be listed as a fragrance. Two of the most common are substances called limonene and beta-Pinene, which smell like lemons and pine trees, respectively.

So if your house smells lemony fresh, it could be it is also releasing lots of VOCs into the air. And concentrations of VOCs can be especially high indoors.

Ironically, the reduction in VOC production in car exhaust is making the relative impact of VOC emissions from consumer good products go much higher.

And while government regulators knew there could be some VOC emission from consumer goods from say plastic packaging made from oil, these other sources of VOCs such as fragrances largely have flown under the radar.

What's more, improvements in measuring techniques have indicated that US previous government estimates of VOC pollution from household products were two to three times smaller than the reality.

Even as the issue is being recognized, the sheer scale of the number of products and sources of VOCs makes a regulatory framework almost impossible.

What's more, because the Clean Air Act doesn't give the government the power to regulate indoor air, fewer scientists study it.

According to the study, about 40% of the chemicals and fragrances found in these affected products end up in the air. In a simulated computer model of Los Angeles air quality, the scientists also found that about half of the VOCs could be attributed to consumer products.

Also notably, many of the VOCs used in consumer products are replacements for chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs. Those chemicals were phased out beginning in the 1980s because they thinned the Earth's ozone layer.

Will we start seeing VOC reduction targets coming from consumer goods and other companies?

What do you think this this VOC issue? Will we see regulation someday - or self-policing by consumer goods companies? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback button below.

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