VOC Reductions to Alter the Aerosol Industry in the Fifth Largest Economy

By Nicholas Georges, Household & Commercial Products Association
Nicholas Georges

In the U.S., individual states move faster than the national government to create environmental regulations, which can often conflict with each other. However, as a consensus emerges, that framework often becomes the model used by the federal government. Nowhere is this more true than in California, which has the largest economy of any U.S. state and if it were its own nation, would have the fifth largest economy in the world.

Fifty years ago, with an already large population and unique geographical constraints, California had a serious problem with smog. For example, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) established the first air quality standards to combat the problem in 1969. The actions were a year before the federal government passed the Clean Air Act or the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) even existed. The initial steps were focused on the primary sources – automobiles and industry.

California was also the first to address volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in consumer products in the 1980s. A simple activity such as cooking bacon emits volatile particles, however not all VOCs should be treated equally. For more than 30 years, CARB and Household & Commercial Products Association (HCPA), then the Chemical Specialties Manufacturers Association (CSMA), have worked together to ensure that the VOCs in our industry’s products are regulated appropriately as part of wider emission control efforts. Our collaborative work with CARB in California also laid the foundation for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)1 and other states2 to adopt regulations designed to improve air quality across the U.S that are consistent with CARB’s regulation. 

While consumer products are not a significant contributor to air pollution like major industrial and automotive sources, HCPA continues to work collaboratively with CARB to find areas for improvement where they do exist. These actions, combined with innovation and emission reductions from other sources, have worked. The Consumer Product Regulation has reduced VOC emissions in California from consumer products about 50 percent compared to 1990 levels. However, air pollution remains a severe problem in California due to its geography and continued population growth, and CARB is presently going through another round of rulemaking (this will be CARB’s 22nd rulemaking with respect to consumer products), with the goal of reducing statewide VOC levels between 2 - 4 tons per day (tpd) by 2023 and to 8 – 10 tpd by 2031 from consumer products. 

To inform the rulemaking, over 1,500 consumer, commercial and personal care product manufacturers, formulators and marketers provided detailed information about the product sales and formulations for more than 300,000 products sold in California across 491 product categories during the three-year period of 2013-2015. Industry and CARB staff have spent significant time and resources on this survey and the collection of data, providing the most accurate and trusted snapshot of VOC emissions from consumer, commercial and personal care products. HCPA coordinated the industry analysis of the draft survey data to flag potential inconsistencies or issues for CARB in advance of the formal rulemaking.

With this data in hand, CARB convened two public work groups to start their activities – a Regulatory Strategies Work Group and a Regulatory Definitions Work Group. From May to the beginning of July of this year, CARB hosted 11 teleconferences with the Regulatory Strategies Work Group discussing 47 product categories for potential reductions. HCPA was on hand to answer questions, provide feedback and help members with products in those categories understand what CARB was looking for. 

To give CARB additional perspective on categories they had specific questions about, HCPA brought together allied associations to develop educational materials for a three-day workshop with CARB leadership in early July. HCPA hosted similar workshops for CARB during the VOC rulemakings in the mid-2000s.

Working with member company scientists and experts, the group developed technical presentations about the manufacturing process for products in each of the 11 categories CARB was interested in. The categories covered were single and double phase air freshener aerosols, liquid/pump air fresheners, antiperspirants, deodorants, body deodorant sprays, floor wax strippers, hair spray, laundry products including detergent and fabric softeners, no rinse shampoo (dry shampoo), permanent hair dye, scented candles and aerosol sunscreen. HCPA also worked cross functionally with our fragrance house member companies and the Fragrance Creators Association to highlight the intricacies of fragrance as an ingredient that cuts across multiple categories of consumer and personal care products. 

CARB also hosted the first Regulatory Definitions Work Group workshop in July, presenting the product categories definitions that they believe need to be updated to reflect today’s market. Additional clarity around certain definitions will help simplify compliance and enforcement. 

CARB has asked for stakeholder input by August 16 on other categories to discuss and HCPA is acting as a filter and clearing house for industry comments on particular definitions. From there, CARB and industry stakeholders will prioritize which definitions to address first, and will start the next round of Regulatory Strategies Work Group teleconferences towards the end of August. 

The final CARB definitions and regulations will be the framework for other states and have ripple effects across the U.S. and the aerosol products industry. HCPA will continue to act as a trusted partner for CARB throughout the process and help allied associations work together towards our common goals. The HCPA Air Quality Council is the hub of these efforts, and their next in-person meeting will be at HCPA’s Annual Meeting, XPAND 2019 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida December 8 – 11. If you and your company are interested in air quality issues, VOC regulations at the state level, or are simply trying to understand the science, please don’t hesitate to contact me at 

1) 40 CFR Part 59 Subpart C

2) States that have adopted stricter VOC regulations than the National Standards – Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah and Virginia. The District of Columbia has also adopted stricter regulations. Colorado adopted VOC regulations on July 18, 2019 which will become effective May 1, 2020.

Tags for this article