Aerosol products used in the home now emit more harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs) air pollution than any vehicle in the UK, new research shows.
A new study by the University of York and the National Center for Atmospheric Science finds the picture is damaging globally, with the world’s population now using large numbers of disposable aerosols – more than 25 billion cans per year.
It is estimated that this will result in the release of over 1.3 million tonnes of VOC air pollution each year and could reach 2.2 million tonnes by 2050.
The chemicals currently used in compressed aerosols are primarily volatile organic compounds (VOCs), chemicals that are also released from cars and fuels. The report states that the VOCs currently used in aerosols are less damaging than the ozone-depleting CFCs they replaced in the 1980s. However, in the 1980s, when major international policy decisions were made , no one predicted such a large increase in global consumption.
In the presence of sunlight, VOCs combine with a second pollutant, nitrogen oxides, to cause photochemical smog that is harmful to human health and damages crops and plants.
By far the biggest source of VOC pollution in the UK in the 1990s and 2000s was gasoline-powered cars and fuel, but these emissions have declined significantly in recent years thanks to controls such as catalytic converters on vehicles and fuel vapor recovery at service stations.
Researchers found that, on average, in high-income countries, 10 aerosol cans are used per person per year, with the main contributor being personal care products. The global amount emitted by aerosols each year is increasing as low- and middle-income economies grow and people in those countries buy more.
The authors of the report call on international policymakers to reduce the use of VOCs in compressed aerosols, either by encouraging less harmful propellants like nitrogen or by advocating the use of aerosol-free versions of products. Currently, VOCs are used in about 93% of aerosol cans.
Professor Alastair Lewis of the Department of Chemistry and Director of the National Center for Atmospheric Science said: “Virtually all aerosol-based consumer products can be supplied in non-aerosol form, for example as dry or roll-on deodorants, non polish bars Making small changes in what we buy could have a major impact on the quality of the air outside and inside, and have a relatively small impact on our lives.
“The widespread replacement of the aerosol propellant with non-VOC alternatives would lead to potentially significant reductions in surface ozone.
“Given the contribution of VOCs to ground-level pollution, a review of international policy is needed and continued support for VOCs as the preferred halocarbon replacement is potentially not sustainable for aerosol products in the longer term. term.”
The report states that there are already aerosol-free alternatives that can be easily applied in their liquid or solid forms, for example, such as roll-on deodorant, hair gel, solid furniture polish, tanning lotion and room fragrance.
The study authors conclude that the continued use of aerosols when there are non-aerosol alternatives is often due to maintenance of past consumption patterns. And that the role played by aerosol VOC emissions in air pollution needs to be much more clearly articulated in messages on air pollution and its management to the public.
Professor Lewis added: “Labeling consumer products as emitting high VOC emissions – and clearly linking this to poor indoor and outdoor air quality – can lead to the passage of aerosols to their products. alternatives, as seen previously with the successful labeling of paints and varnishes. “
Amber Yeoman, a doctoral student at Wolfson Atmospheric Chemistry Laboratories, was a co-author of the study which used data from industry and regulators around the world.
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