Consumer and industrial products now a dominant urban air pollution source

Consumer and industrial products now a dominant urban air pollution source
A smoggy view of Los Angeles, 2010. Scientists captured this image from a research aircraft that was part of an intense mission, CALNEX, to study the region's air quality and climate-related challenges. Among the findings now emerging from that effort: Emissions from common household and industrial products including perfumes, pesticides and paints now rival motor vehicle emissions as the top source of the city's air pollution. Credit: Raul Alvarez / NOAA.

Chemical products that contain compounds refined from petroleum, like household cleaners, pesticides, paints and perfumes, now rival motor vehicle emissions as the top source of urban air pollution, according to a surprising NOAA-led study.

People use a lot more fuel than they do petroleum-based compounds in products—about 15 times more by weight, according to the new assessment. Even so, lotions, paints and other products contribute about as much to air pollution as the transportation sector does, said lead author Brian McDonald, a CIRES scientist working in NOAA's Chemical Sciences Division. In the case of one type of pollution—tiny particles that can damage people's lungs—particle-forming emissions from chemical products are about twice as high as those from the transportation sector, his team found. McDonald and colleagues from NOAA and several other institutions reported their results today in the journal Science.

"As transportation gets cleaner, those other sources become more and more important," McDonald said. "The stuff we use in our everyday lives can impact air pollution."

For the new assessment, the scientists focused on or VOCs. VOCs can waft into the atmosphere and react to produce either ozone or particulate matter—both of which are regulated in the United States and many other countries because of health impacts, including lung damage.

Those of us living in cities and suburbs assume that much of the pollution we breathe comes from car and truck emissions or leaky gas pumps. That's for good reason: it was clearly true in past decades. But regulators and car manufacturers made pollution-limiting changes to engines, fuels and pollution control systems. So McDonald and his colleagues reassessed air pollution sources by sorting through recent chemical production statistics compiled by industries and regulatory agencies, by making detailed atmospheric chemistry measurements in Los Angeles air, and by evaluating indoor measurements made by others.

The scientists concluded that in the United States, the amount of VOCs emitted by consumer and industrial products is actually two or three times greater than estimated by current air pollution inventories, which also overestimate vehicular sources. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that about 75 percent of VOC emissions (by weight) come from vehicular sources, and about 25 percent from chemical products. The new study, with its detailed assessment of up-to-date chemical use statistics and previously unavailable atmospheric data, puts the split closer to 50-50.

Petroleum-based chemicals in consumer products like soaps and paints drift into the air and contribute as much as car emissions do to processes leading to air pollution, a new Los Angeles-based study suggests. The results, which reveal a previously underrecognized contributor to poor air quality – one that has come into plainer sight as transportation emissions have declined – are somewhat of a surprise since only about 5% of raw oil is refined into chemicals for consumer products; 95% ends up in fuels. Credit: Carla Schaffer, AAAS

The disproportionate air quality impact of chemical product emissions is partly because of a fundamental difference between those products and fuels, said NOAA atmospheric scientist Jessica Gilman, a co-author of the new paper. "Gasoline is stored in closed, hopefully airtight, containers and the VOCs in gasoline are burned for energy," she said. "But volatile chemical products used in common solvents and personal care products are literally designed to evaporate. You wear perfume or use scented products so that you or your neighbor can enjoy the aroma. You don't do this with gasoline," Gilman said.

The team was particularly interested in how those VOCs end up contributing to particulate pollution. A comprehensive assessment published in the British medical journal Lancet last year put air pollution in a top-five list of global mortality threats, with "ambient particulate matter pollution" as the largest risk. The new study finds that as cars have gotten cleaner, the VOCs forming those particles are coming increasingly from consumer products.

"We've reached that transition point already in Los Angeles," McDonald said.

He and his colleagues found that they simply could not reproduce the levels of particles or ozone measured in the atmosphere unless they included emissions from volatile chemical products. In the course of that work, they also determined that people are exposed to very high concentrations of volatile compounds indoors, which are more concentrated inside than out, said co-author Allen Goldstein, from the University of California Berkeley.

"Indoor concentrations are often 10 times higher indoors than outdoors, and that's consistent with a scenario in which petroleum-based products used indoors provide a significant source to outdoor air in urban environments."

The new assessment does find that the U.S. regulatory focus on car emissions has been very effective, said co-author Joost de Gouw, a CIRES chemist. "It's worked so well that to make further progress on air quality, regulatory efforts would need to become more diverse," de Gouw said. "It's not just vehicles any more."

Explore further

Emissions of volatile organic compounds higher than previously assumed

More information: B.C. McDonald el al., "Volatile chemical products emerging as largest petrochemical source of urban organic emissions," Science (2018). … 1126/science.aaq0524
Journal information: Science

Citation: Consumer and industrial products now a dominant urban air pollution source (2018, February 15) retrieved 17 June 2019 from
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Feb 15, 2018
For the health of the children windows that can be opened should be banned. All air entering and exiting a living unit should be filtered and the filters inspected by government agents twice a year. Finally it is well known that pine trees emit very high levels of VOCs. Any existing trees within a 250 mile radius should be cut down and be replaced with sawgrass. This grass could be harvested and turned into non-polluting fuel. Finally the sale of beans should be severely limited. Humans do not really digest legumes well and methane emitted adds to AGW.

Feb 15, 2018
The Australian Eucalyptus tree emit oil that's highly flammable.
That's why the blue mountains are "Blue" because of the Eucalyptus oil.
Evoled to burst into flames

Feb 15, 2018
It is truly astounding that humanity has put ourselves at risk thanks to 'scents' (a marketing ploy, your body odor needs covering up, don't you know).
Any New Chemical being introduced by industry needs to show how many and what types of cancers per million they'll be causing, over what time frame, so we can weigh the risk, and any deviation can be accessed against the Company, who must put a trust fund together, for social costs of the chemical.
If they won't/can't answer the question, they ought to find another invention.
We don't have a "Consumer Chemical Treaty" that could ensure our health, and provide for innovation.
Petrochem and big Pharma own us. Sure, there are exceptions, but, mostly we're inescapably dependent on oil and ethical (and illegal) drugs.

Feb 15, 2018
... windows that can be opened should be banned. All air entering and exiting a living unit should be filtered and the filters inspected by government agents twice a year. ...

I'm not sure you read the article correctly. (2nd to last par.) They say that the use of consumer stuff inside means that the concentration of indoor pollution inside is about 10x higher than right outside the door. So, opening a window IS a good idea. Also, (and while I like the idea of mandatory filtered air in building regulations), I would consider it an infringement of my rights for the government to be mandated to inspect my residence twice a year for filter quality. Inspection upon install, and inspection upon transfer, but no more.

The other point I take issue with is the idea of cutting down trees. While they do emit VOCs, those VOCs are less hazardous than artificial sources, and some of those VOCs are necessary for earth's ecosystem (ozone layer). I like the grass idea, tho.

Feb 16, 2018
Just another example of how big oil is ruining the earth ! !

Feb 16, 2018
"I'm not sure you read the article correctly. (2nd to last par.) They say that the use of consumer stuff inside means that the concentration of indoor pollution inside is about 10x higher than right outside"

Why should a private home have the right to pollute the outside air ? Look at the picture. The air is filthy and unbreathable. Save the neighbors children, the air should have to be cleaned before it is returned to the outside.

Feb 18, 2018
IF I was cynical I would say the 'reevaluation' is purposed to provide our esteemed Congress a way to enact legislation targeting pollution by 'cutting' VOCs from chemical products sold to the general public. Sadly the children now known to have mental retardation formerly called LD, won't benefit.
Clip on your personal CO2 and O2 and CO monitor before venturing into the true swamp of toxic gases carpeting our concrete pathways. Furnaces are now exhausting next to the ground to keep these toxic gases close to home instead of exiting chimneys like they used to to gradually make their way to low ground being heavier than air and this is Yes, the concrete car routes.

Feb 18, 2018
Kate, our two EVs do not emit gases.

Feb 18, 2018
I don't know if an electrostatic precipitator can ionize and filter VOCs, but our air is cleaned in the house. The trash is recycled and the garbage is composted for the garden.

Feb 18, 2018
MR166: ...
I'm not sure you read the article correctly
No he didn't

and he will not
nor will he read any articles fully unless they're directly attacking anything dealing with climate change or AGW

he has an agenda and is not interested in the facts in science

this is something that can be proven simply by reading his post history in any climate change thread

you can see for yourself and make a decision: https://sciencex....6/?v=act

Feb 19, 2018
Sigh. Fine, eliminate it all. Go back 100 years, and drop dead as children from infections. Only now you have antibiotic-resistant bacteria as well.

Feb 20, 2018
Sigh... indeed. This will only end when the creator remakes all things, fixing and ultimately doing away with this broken world that is the result of sin.
Until then, we will have to suffer the curse we carry from Adam's day.
We, humans, cannot fix this by ourselves. We should not kid ourselves that we can because evil gets in the way.

Feb 20, 2018
Please take that "creator" stuff to a religious or superstition site.

Feb 21, 2018
"Please take that "creator" stuff to a religious or superstition site."

Does that mean that we cannot talk about AGW here Gkam? After all that is the secular Progressive replacement for all religions. In their spare time, when they are not adjusting historical temperature data, they are removing religion from our daily lives.

Feb 21, 2018
Nightmare at Freddys says
We, humans, cannot fix this by ourselves. We should not kid ourselves that we can because evil gets in the way
Well that's how we got into this position isn't it Fred? Godders telling us we can't fix things, and we shouldn't try because it's the punishment we deserve.

In the meantime religions are all trying to outgrow and overrun each other, creating the hordes we struggle to feed and clothe and house; and making horrors like war and famine and industrial-scale ABORTION inevitable and unavoidable.

There's something to be ashamed of Freddy - praying for salvation while not addressing the root cause of all our problems...


Feb 21, 2018
"34 Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." Mat6:34

-And the evil of this day and every day is...


If your god had cared about the human race he would have taught them to live within their means and take responsibility for their futures, not pray for miracles.

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