Cleaner Cleaners?

A new law in California aimed at cleaning up cleaning products will likely help reduce air pollution nationwide.
© CalFinder

A new law in California aimed at cleaning up cleaning products may help reduce air pollution nationwide. The new regulation—passed unanimously on November 18 by the California Air Resources Board (ARB)—will require that makers of household cleaning products, including glass sprays, bug sprays, degreasers, furniture sprays and metal polishes, reduce the amount of toxic solvents known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in these products. Many companies will be forced to reformulate their products to comply, and the rest of the country will reap the benefits of greener cleaning products, since companies are unlikely to produce separate products for sale in California only.

The new standards, which take effect on December 31, 2013, are designed to limit airborne carcinogens and smog—and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions and chemical runoff that harm aquatic species. The ARB estimates that the reduction in air pollution from the regulations will be equal to removing 500,000 vehicles from California roads. Currently, the board reports, emissions from consumer products—some 245 tons per day—represent about 12% of the state's total burden of smog-forming VOCs.

A new study just out by the group Environment California reports that vehicle emissions have been vastly improved in the state, but smog—which aggravates lung infections and asthma and can lead to premature death—has not been so easy to eliminate. As the nonprofit notes in its report, "California is uniquely sensitive to airpollution. Atmospheric inversions tend to trap rising pollution in a dirty brown layer above valleys — in particular, around the state's South Coast and the San Joaquin Valley. Infrequent rainfall aggravates the situation, allowing pollution to remain in the air for extended periods. And intense summer heat and sunlight cooks the toxic mixture, creating smog." While cars are cleaner, continued air pollution means most Californians still live in areas with poor air quality. Contending with dirty air led the state to set its own more stringent emissions standards, paving the way for less-polluting vehicles nationwide. Now, it will likely do the same for household cleaners.

SOURCES: California Air Resources Board; Environment California; Scientific American.