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Household Products Cause as Much Air Pollution as Cars, Surprising Study Finds

Health + Wellness
themorningglory / Flickr

Petroleum-based chemicals, such as those used in paints, cleaners and personal care products such as perfumes and deodorants, contribute as much to volatile organic air pollution in urban areas as cars and trucks, according to a new finding published in Science.

The consumer products emit synthetic "volatile organic compounds" or VOCs that contribute to ground-level ozone or small particulate pollution, causing asthma, lung disease and other serious health problems.


According to the research led by Colorado University, the source of non-vehicle VOC sources is likely two or three times higher than estimated under present air pollution inventories. Meanwhile, stricter vehicle emission controls have made cars and trucks cleaner—resulting in consumer products rivaling cars in air pollution contribution.

As reported by the Washington Post:

"These results have important implications for how and what emissions we regulate," said Brent Stephens, an expert on indoor air and the built environment at the Illinois Institute of Technology [by email]. "We have traditionally focused on transportation and industrial emissions to the outdoor environment. [Volatile chemical products] are now relatively more important emission sources, and they come from both indoor and outdoor sources (and some primarily from indoor sources), although we don't regulate the vast majority of indoor environments."

Stephens noted that proposed budget cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency loom large in this context, because the agency conducts much relevant work on atmospheric chemistry and air quality.

"We typically think of outdoor air pollution as an outdoor problem," Stephens added. "But this study demonstrates (quantitatively) that it's more complicated than that."

For a deeper dive:

Washington Post, New York Times, Axios, Financial Times, BBC, The Guardian, KPCC, SF Gate, LA Times

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