California Bans VOCs, Costs of Some Products Will Rise

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The California Air Resources Board (ARB) is cracking down on products that contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), such as aerosol air fresheners and paint thinners, and is imposing a ban on high-VOC products starting in 2014.

Here’s a simple breakdown of how the regulation will work, courtesy of the Associated Press:

  • Manufacturers will have to limit VOC content to 30 percent of the product’s weight by 2010
  • The number would drop to 3 percent on January 1, 2014
  • Any reformulated products cannot substitute “gases that contribute to global warming” in order to achieve VOC reduction
LA Smog

Regulators say that emissions from products with VOCs contribute to smog. Photo: Flickr/Ben Amstutz

The expected impact of this law is two-fold:

  1. It will prevent more than 14 tons of VOCs from entering the air daily. VOCs have been linked to asthma and cancer, as well as contributing to smog.
  2. When manufacturers re-formulate products to comply with the standards, consumers will notice in their pocket books. The ARB estimates that the price of a gallon of paint thinner will increase by $1.50 under the new law, although the cost of air fresheners is not expected to rise.

California has been targeting VOC emissions since it signed The California Clean Air Act in 1988. The ARB reports that in the past 21 years, VOC emissions have dropped by 44 percent.

Industry representatives are already questioning whether they have enough time to safely comply with the mandates. In reality, the response will have to be even quicker, as Southern California is imposing the new restrictions starting in 2011 under a separate rule.

One material where VOC content has already been addressed is paint. Most paint manufacturers now offer low or no-VOC options, in part because of state laws that enforced VOC standards. In that case as well, California was the first state to take action.

While reducing the VOC quantity of products may improve air quality, it has little impact on disposal. Products such as aerosol sprays and paint thinners are still considered hazardous, meaning many states prevent them from disposal in landfills.

Feature image courtesy of Sacha Fernandez

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Trey Granger

Trey Granger is a former senior waste stream analyst for Earth911.
Trey Granger

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