Personal Care Sprays Curbed in Smog Fight


In a dramatic new turn in the war on smog, the state Air Resources Board imposed unprecedented restrictions Wednesday on antiperspirant and deodorant aerosol sprays that could result in a ban on products that fail to meet the standards within five years.

The action marked the first time ever that personal care products have been regulated because of their impact on smog. In the mid-1970s, the federal government banned some chemicals in certain aerosol products, but that was because they contributed to the destruction of the paper-thin stratospheric ozone layer that protects Earth from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet radiation.

While the rule approved here Wednesday would eliminate only a small percentage of smog-forming chemical emissions, the 6-2 vote could foreshadow air pollution controls on a wide variety of other personal care and consumer products from hair sprays to barbecue lighter fluids.

“There is more at stake today than just (deodorants),” ARB Executive Officer James Boyd told the board. ARB Chairwoman Jananne Sharpless called the decision a “landmark action.”


“It really gets down to impacts that people themselves are going to notice and going to feel,” she said.

Aerosol antiperspirants and deodorants--which account for 25% of product sales--spew up to five tons a day of smog-causing volatile organic chemicals into the atmosphere statewide--an amount equivalent to the emissions from a typical oil refinery. About half of those emissions occur in the four-county South Coast Air Basin, which includes Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino.

Under terms of the new regulation, which will take effect early next year, manufacturers of aerosol spray deodorants and antiperspirants have until 1992 to reduce overall emissions from their products by 20%. By 1995, those emissions will have to be reduced by 80%.

However, manufacturers that submit an acceptable compliance plan in 1994 may be given until 1999 to meet that goal. If they fail to submit a plan, they must meet the 1995 deadline or remove the product from California’s lucrative market.


The rule also prohibits using substitutes that would contribute to the depletion of the ozone layer.

In all, consumer and personal care products account for 250 tons a day in emissions of volatile organic compounds in California--about half of them in the four-county basin.

The ARB vote marks a dramatic departure in the state’s decades-long war on smog, which until now has concentrated on reducing emissions from motor vehicles and industrial sources.

The ARB staff estimated the aerosol regulation will add 25 cents to 50 cents to the cost of a product. Industry spokesmen, however, placed the cost between 31 cents and $2.36 per can. They said 46 million cans of aerosol deodorants and antiperspirants are sold each year in California.

Manufacturers were uncertain of the impact of the regulation.

“Their (the ARB’s) intention is to ban aerosols. This is step No. 1. The only reason they aren’t putting an outright ban is because there would be a hundred lawsuits,” said George C. Dietrich, president of Diversified CPC International, an Illinois manufacturer.

Dietrich, who said his company is the largest producer of aerosol propellants in the world, contended he could be forced to close his Anaheim plant, which produces propellants for the California market.

“Should that market shift to any degree, we very well could remove that plant and its employees. This is not to be taken as a threat. It is a business decision,” Dietrich told the board.


Meeting the Timetable

Ralph Engel of the Chemical Speciality Manufacturers Assn., said he could not yet say if his industry could meet the timetable. “I hope so,” he said.

Earlier, a string of industry representatives had appeared before the ARB to challenge the need for the rule, arguing that it would cost millions of dollars for little or no improvement in air quality.

“We believe the emission reduction is so small that it doesn’t warrant this kind of treatment,” Engel said.

But Jennifer Jennings, legal affairs director for the Planning and Conservation League, urged the board to impose tough limits.

“We’re talking about a product form that is environmentally damaging, which is not needed for health and safety . . .” she said.

The rule finally adopted by the ARB was even tougher than the recommendation of the board’s own staff.

Board members, all of whom are appointed by Gov. George Deukmejian, called for earlier compliance deadlines than the staff had recommended. “These products are totally replaceable. . . . This is a good place to take some sort of a stand to reduce (smog),” said board member Gene Boston.


Brian Bilbray, a San Diego County supervisor recently named to the board, challenged suggestions that aerosols were needed so that consumers could have a choice in products.

“I have a problem with a choice that pollutes more,” Bilbray declared. “I have a major problem subsidizing that choice with an (adverse) environmental impact,” he said.

The ARB regulation is aimed primarily at volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as butane, propane and iso-butane, which all contribute to smog.

About 30% of the aerosol emissions, about 75 tons a year, come from an array of personal care products.

In addition to the 25% of Californians who buy their deodorants and antiperspirants in pressurized aerosol spray cans, another 41% buy sticks, 29% roll-ons, and 5% buy pumps or other forms.

Manufacturers were expected to have little difficulty meeting the initial 20% reduction in smog-causing emissions by 1992. But achieving an 80% reduction from 1989 levels by 1995 poses a more complicated problem.

The ARB staff conceded that work will be required to develop substitutes that neither contribute to smog, global warming or depletion of the ozone layer.

The new regulation is not aimed primarily at the formula of the product but the propellant that pushes it out of the pressurized can. Propellants account for about 80% of the smog-forming emissions.

Each time a product is used, these pollutants are released into the atmosphere where they contribute to the formation of smog, the state’s largest health hazard in the lower atmosphere.

Smog is formed when the VOCs react with oxides of nitrogen in the presence of sunlight. Health studies have found that ozone pollution, which makes up 95% of smog, is responsible for respiratory illness, reduced lung capacity as well as damage to trees, crops, and building materials.