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Environmental connections to public health >>

Encourage California to Green its Cleaners - and its Air

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Good news: There's a surprising silver (er, green) lining to California's infamous smog problem.

Back in 1989, the state's Air Resources Board decided to do something about the pollution created by cleaning supplies, cosmetics and other common consumer products. This also helped California's efforts to meet federal ozone standards when they came in, and over the last two decades this program has periodically set new standards that push industries to make greener, safer goods.

This week, the agency may take another step for clean air and our health, and YOU can help make that happen.

California's "smog rules" have already led to significantly greener products. For example, in recent years the state's actions have pushed manufacturers to:

  • ratchet down the amount of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released by cleaning supplies, air fresheners, paint thinners and many other everyday products. VOCs are a broad category of air contaminants that contribute to smog -- check out EWG's cheat sheet on VOCs for more information.
  • eliminate ingredients with high potential to contribute to global warming in a variety of consumer products, from aerosol air fresheners to multi-purpose solvents and paint thinners.
  • halt the use of toxic perchloroethylene for dry cleaning. Even brief exposure to high levels of "perc" can cause neurological symptoms including headache, dizziness and confusion. Long-term exposure is linked to kidney and liver damage and cancer.

Actions taken in California often lead to greener products nationwide, as many companies prefer to make a single formulation that can be sold anywhere -- and the state's large market share tends to guide industry decisions.

This Week, Take a Stand for Stronger Standards

On Thursday (Nov. 18), the Air Resources Board will vote on its latest consumer product regulations. The proposed standards are a significant step forward. If passed, they will:

  • ban use of alkylphenol ethoxylates in cleaning supplies. These chemicals break down into alkylphenols, potent hormone-disrupting chemicals that have been found in the bodies of at least 51 percent of Americans tested. They contaminate rivers, lakes and the ocean, harming aquatic life. The European Union and Canada have already banned these chemicals in cleaning products, but no action has been taken in the U.S.
  • expand to more types of consumer products the bans of both "perc" and chemicals with high potential to increase global warming (by staying in the atmosphere and absorbing warmth once released, like C02, but at least 150 times worse!).
  • set new, lower VOC standards for general purpose cleaning supplies as well as those used for windows, ovens and grills, furniture and metal. Other products covered by the proposed VOC standards include insecticides, heavy-duty hand cleaners, spot removers and lubricants.

Show your support for these standards today! Email the CA Air Resources Board by noon on Wednesday (Nov. 17).

Here's some sample text. It's even more effective if you customize or write your own email, of course!

I am a California supporter of the Environmental Working Group (EWG) who wants cleaner air. I urge the California Air Resources Board to adopt the 2010 Consumer Products Regulation Amendments. These amendments would reduce smog-forming volatile organic compounds (VOCs) found in cleaning supplies and many other consumer goods.

They would also create product-specific bans of key ingredients with significant health or environmental concerns, including alkylphenol ethoxylates, perchloroethylene and chemicals with high potential to worsen global warming.

I encourage you to strongly regulate and reduce the harmful chemicals in consumer products. In doing so, we can set an important precedent in protecting the health of families and workers -- not only in our state but nationwide as well.

I appreciate the protections you have already put into place -- thank you for taking air pollution and our health seriously!

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