Quantcast

Personal Care Products as Dangerous for the Air as Car Exhaust, Study Finds

Rush hour in Boulder, Colorado. Theo Stein / NOAA

People's efforts to keep themselves clean are actually making the air dirtier, at least in Boulder, Colorado.


A study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Cooperative Institute for Research In Environmental Sciences (CIRES) found that emissions from personal care products commuters use before leaving in the morning were roughly equivalent in magnitude to emissions from the tailpipes of their cars, a CIRES press release reported Monday.

"We detected a pattern of emissions that coincides with human activity: people apply these products in the morning, leave their homes, and drive to work or school. So emissions spike during commuting hours," lead author Matthew Coggon, a CIRES scientist at the University of Colorado Boulder, said in the release.

The results are in keeping with an earlier NOAA and CIRES study that found personal care and cleaning products were a major contributor to air pollution in Los Angeles.

"We all have a personal plume, from our cars and our personal care products. It's likely that emissions from personal care product also affect the air quality in other cities besides Boulder and L.A. Our team wants to learn more about these understudied sources of pollution," Coggon said.

The results, published April 16 in Environmental Science and Technology, were a bit of a surprise.

In December 2015, February 2016 and January 2017, researchers measured volatile organic compounds (VOC) that react with nitrogen oxide in sunlight to form particulate matter and ozone, two types of air pollution dangerous to human health.

One VOC they measured was benzene, a common car emission used to monitor traffic pollution. But they also found large quantities of an unknown VOC.

"We found a big peak in the data but we didn't know what it was," Coggon said in the release.

Then NOAA scientist and study co-author Patrick Veres identified it as siloxane. Since the siloxane peaked at the same time as benzene, researchers hypothesized it was also coming from car exhaust, but when they tested car emissions directly, they couldn't find it.

But siloxane is also commonly used in personal care products such as shampoo, lotions and deodorants to make them silky and smooth. The researchers realized that siloxane levels peaked with benzene levels in the morning because people were leaving their homes leaving their homes showered and lotioned to drive to work.

Both decreased during the day and peaked again in the evening, but by then siloxane levels were lower than benzene levels, since much of the compound had already evaporated off of commuters' bodies and hair.

How siloxane and benzene levels vary throughout the day.Kathy Bogan / CIRES

While the researchers hadn't set out to look for pollution from personal care products, their findings, as mentioned, connected to a February NOAA and CIRES study that found VOCs released by personal care products, cleaning products, paints and pesticides made up half of the VOCs measured by the researchers in Los Angeles.

The CIRES press release also comes the same day as another study found that U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data had overestimated the decline in U.S. air pollution.

The authors of that study suggested that, as efforts to target transportation and industrial emissions gained headway, other untargeted pollution sources like boilers and off-road vehicles were now playing a bigger role in overall pollution levels.

In his comments on the recent Boulder study, the leader of the Los Angeles study, Brian McDonald, suggested something similar might be taking place with VOCs from personal care products.

"This study provides further evidence that as transportation emissions of VOCs have declined, other sources of VOCs, including from personal care products, are emerging as important contributors to urban air pollution," McDonald said in the CIRES press release.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Mizina / iStock / Getty Images

By Ryan Raman, MS, RD

Oats are widely regarded as one of the healthiest grains you can eat, as they're packed with many important vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

Read More Show Less
JPMorgan Chase building in New York City. Ben Sutherland / CC BY 2.0

By Sharon Kelly

A report published Wednesday names the banks that have played the biggest recent role in funding fossil fuel projects, finding that since 2016, immediately following the Paris agreement's adoption, 33 global banks have poured $1.9 trillion into financing climate-changing projects worldwide.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Sriram Madhusoodanan of Corporate Accountability speaking on conflict of interest demand of the People's Demands at a defining action launching the Demands at COP24. Corporate Accountability

By Patti Lynn

2018 was a groundbreaking year in the public conversation about climate change. Last February, The New York Times reported that a record percentage of Americans now believe that climate change is caused by humans, and there was a 20 percentage point rise in "the number of Americans who say they worry 'a great deal' about climate change."

Read More Show Less
The head of England's Environment Agency has urged people to stop watering their lawns as a climate-induced water shortage looms. Pexels

England faces an "existential threat" if it does not change how it manages its water, the head of the country's Environment Agency warned Tuesday.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By Jessica Corbett

A new analysis revealed Tuesday that over the past two decades heat records across the U.S. have been broken twice as often as cold ones—underscoring experts' warnings about the increasingly dangerous consequences of failing to dramatically curb planet-warming emissions.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
A flock of parrots in Telegraph Hill, San Francisco. ~dgies / Flickr

By Madison Dapcevich

Ask any resident of San Francisco about the waterfront parrots, and they will surely tell you a story of red-faced conures squawking or dive-bombing between building peaks. Ask a team of researchers from the University of Georgia, however, and they will tell you of a mysterious string of neurological poisonings impacting the naturalized flock for decades.

Read More Show Less
Fire burns in the North Santiam State Recreational Area on March 19. Oregon Department of Forestry

An early-season wildfire near Lyons, Oregon burned 60 acres and forced dozens of homes to evacuate Tuesday evening, the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) said, as KTVZ reported.

The initial cause of the fire was not yet known, but it has been driven by the strong wind and jumped the North Santiam River, The Salem Statesman Journal reported. As of Tuesday night, it threatened around 35 homes and 30 buildings, and was 20 percent contained.

Read More Show Less
Edwin Hardeman is the plaintiff in the first U.S. federal trial claiming that Roundup causes cancer. NOAH BERGER / AFP / Getty Images

A second U.S. jury has ruled that Roundup causes cancer.

The unanimous verdict was announced Tuesday in San Francisco in the first federal case to be brought against Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, alleging that repeated use of the company's glyphosate-containing weedkiller caused the plaintiff's cancer. Seventy-year-old Edwin Hardeman of Santa Rosa, California said he used Roundup for almost 30 years on his properties before developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

The decision comes less than a year after a jury awarded $289 million to Bay-area groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson over similar claims. The amount was later reduced to $78 million.

"Today's verdict reinforces what another jury found last year, and what scientists with the state of California and the World Health Organization have concluded: Glyphosate causes cancer in people," Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook said in a statement. "As similar lawsuits mount, the evidence will grow that Roundup is not safe, and that the company has tried to cover it up."

Judge Vince Chhabria has split Hardeman's trial into two phases. The first, decided Tuesday, focused exclusively on whether or not Roundup use caused the plaintiff's cancer. The second, to begin Wednesday, will assess if Bayer is liable for damages.

"We are disappointed with the jury's initial decision, but we continue to believe firmly that the science confirms glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer," Bayer spokesman Dan Childs said in a statement reported by The Guardian. "We are confident the evidence in phase two will show that Monsanto's conduct has been appropriate and the company should not be liable for Mr. Hardeman's cancer."

Some legal experts said that Chhabria's decision to split the trial was beneficial to Bayer, Reuters reported. The company had complained that the jury in Johnson's case had been distracted by the lawyers' claims that Monsanto had sought to mislead scientists and the public about Roundup's safety.

However, a remark made by Chhabria during the trial and reported by The Guardian was blatantly critical of the company.

"Although the evidence that Roundup causes cancer is quite equivocal, there is strong evidence from which a jury could conclude that Monsanto does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue," he said.

Many regulatory bodies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have ruled that glyphosate is safe for humans, but the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer found it was "probably carcinogenic to humans" in 2015. A university study earlier this year found that glyphosate use increased cancer risk by as much as 41 percent.

Hardeman's lawyers Jennifer Moore and Aimee Wagstaff said they would now reveal Monsanto's efforts to mislead the public about the safety of its product.

"Now we can focus on the evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of Roundup," they wrote in a statement reported by The Guardian.

Hardeman's case is considered a "bellwether" trial for the more than 760 glyphosate cases Chhabria is hearing. In total, there are around 11,200 such lawsuits pending in the U.S., according to Reuters.

University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias told Reuters that Tuesday's decision showed that the verdict in Johnson's case was not "an aberration," and could possibly predict how future juries in the thousands of pending cases would respond.