California Paves the Way for Lower-VOC Cleaning Products to Reduce Smog

household cleaners photo

Image: Guerrilla Futures via flickr

Household cleaning products in the U.S. might soon be a little greener, thanks to a new rule in California that will require companies to reformulate products so they contain fewer volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, which are significant contributors to smog—and pose health hazards for people. The new regulation will cover window cleaners, degreasers, general purpose cleaning sprays and other cleaning products you probably have around the house for the kitchen, furniture, even your hands.

The rule applies to products in California, but is expected to affect products nationwide because producing different sets of products to meet different standards is not usually cost-effective for manufacturers.
Scientific American reports that the standards set by the new rule, which passed late last week, "will reduce emissions by nearly 7 tons per day, which is the equivalent of removing half a million cars from California's roads." Despite prior state regulations that reduced VOC emissions from consumer products, these products still emit 245 tons per day—12 percent of all the VOCs in California air.

And because VOCs contribute to ozone pollution and are key contributors to smog, California cannot meet its federal mandate to reduce ozone without addressing these ubiquitous chemicals.

Meeting the new standards will cost manufacturers an estimated $50 million over three years, but consumers are expected to see little or no increase in cost for some products like glass cleaners, and up to 44 cents for heavy-duty hand soap, according to a report cited by Scientific American.

VOCs, which evaporate easily at room temperature, pose health risks as small and immediate as headaches and as large and long-term as cancer. This is a great step by California, but be sure to look beyond cleaning products to really reduce exposure to VOCs in your everyday life.

More on volatile organic compounds
VOCs: Volatile Organic Compounds, Indoor Air Quality and Respiratory Health
5 Ways Your Bedroom is Killing You
Green Glossary: Volatile Organic Compounds

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