In the UK, indoor aerosol products emit more pollutants than car traffic. The culprits are volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
VOCs are present in many everyday products, even though they are harmful to the environment and carcinogenic.
The packaging of fresh produce, disinfectants, and cleaning sprays promise us a healthy, fragrant home. However, behind their fruity or fresh scents, sometimes certified as natural and organic, these aerosols hide a very different reality: they are very harmful to health. A recent study estimates that the high consumption of these aerosol products in the UK is causing air pollution – measured in volatile organic compounds (VOCs) – greater than that from vehicles across the country. This is alarming because, according to the researchers, more than 25 billion disposable aerosol cans are used annually worldwide, resulting in the release of more than 1.3 million tons of VOCs. By 2050, that number could reach 2.2 million tons. However, the authors do not specify how many VOCs are emitted by UK transport.
VOCs in many everyday products
VOCs are a group of substances – ethanol, acetone, benzene, etc. – that belong to different chemical families, but all consist of at least one carbon and one hydrogen atom. They are found as gases or vapors in the air, where they spread rapidly. Therefore, these VOCs are considered pollutants because they have very harmful effects on the environment, the atmosphere, but also on the health of humans, animals, and plants. Some are even considered to be carcinogenic. However, it is of concern that VOCs are emitted by many everyday consumer materials and products, such as certain dishwashing detergents, laundry detergents, fabric softeners, deodorants, but also indoor aerosol products or even automobiles and their fuel. In addition, VOCs combined with nitrogen oxides contribute to the formation of ozone in the lower atmosphere, which is harmful to the environment.
To reduce VOCs, change your hygiene and household products
In the 1990s and 2000s, the biggest source of VOC pollution in the UK was gasoline and fuel cars, but these emissions have decreased dramatically in recent years thanks to government regulations. The researchers believe that the problem now lies more in household products. They estimate that on average ten aerosol cans are used per person per year in developed countries. And as global consumption of these products increases, that number is rising. The study’s authors, therefore, encourage policymakers to advocate the use of aerosol-free or less harmful propellants in indoor products. Currently, VOCs are reportedly used in about 93 percent of aerosol cans. “Virtually all aerosol-based consumer products can also be made in the non-aerosol forms, such as roll-on deodorants or deodorant sticks,” says Professor Alastair Lewis, one of the study’s authors. Small changes in what we buy could have a big impact on outdoor and indoor air quality without affecting our lives. Small habits to change to preserve the planet, our health, and that of all ecosystems.
If you want to measure the impact of VOCs in your daily life, nothing could be easier! All you need is a VOC sensor, a small device that measures the air quality in your home. Once installed, it displays the VOC level in a room. And if the reading is bad, first ventilate the room, then change your hygiene and household products!