Consumer and industrial products are dominant urban air pollution source: study
New Delhi: Emissions from vehicles are often dubbed as the main source of air pollution in urban areas across the world but a study released on Thursday has said consumer and industrial products are a “dominant urban air pollution source”.
“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,” said a study led by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). The US government agency works on range of issues including weather forecasts, severe storm warnings, climate monitoring, fisheries management, and coastal restoration.
“People use a lot more fuel than they do petroleum based compounds in chemical 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 scientist working in NOAA’s Chemical Sciences Division.
The study was published in the international journal ‘Science’.
“In the case of one types 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,” found the researchers.
“As transportation gets cleaner, those other sources become more and more important. The stuff we use in our everyday lives can impact air pollution,” added McDonald.
For the study, the scientists focused on volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which can waft into the atmosphere and react to produce either ozone or particulate matter (PM) that can cause serious health problems including lung damage.
Even though emissions from vehicles like cars and trucks are considered one of the major sources of air pollution, in the past few years indoor air pollution has also got significant attention.
The findings come as the world slowly moves towards better vehicles with car manufacturers making pollution-limiting changes to engines, governments pushing cleaner fuels and introducing strict pollution control systems.
“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,” the study emphasised.
The study said that as cars have gotten cleaner, the VOCs forming those pollution particles are coming increasingly from consumer products.
NOAA’s atmospheric scientist Jessica Gilman, who is also the co-author of the study, said that the disproportionate air quality impact of chemical product emissions is partly because of a fundamental difference between those products and fuels.
“Gasoline is stored in closed, hopefully airtight, containers and the VOCs in gasoline are burned for energy. 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 neighbour can enjoy the aroma. You don’t do this with gasoline,” Gilman explained.
“They also determined that people are exposed to very high concentrations of volatile compounds indoors, which are more concentrated inside than out. 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,” said co-author Allen Goldstein, who is from the US based University of California Berkeley.
Last year, in October, a study by international medical journal ‘The Lancet’, said that in 2015, pollution was the reason behind nine million deaths worldwide—or about one in six. As per the study, the causes for air-pollution-linked deaths included ambient air pollution, which is outdoor air pollution comprising gases and particulate matter, as well as household air pollution, which results from the burning of wood, charcoal, coal, dung, or crop wastes indoors; and ambient ozone.