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Consumer Products, VOCs, Ozone and Smog

By Barb Wilkie
Information appearing in The New Reactor, Vol 10, No. 0: Jan.-Feb. 2000

Dear Readers:

I had a thought: FRAGRANCES and FABRIC SOFTENERS are VOCs (volatile organic compounds). VOCs contribute mightily to pollution. Pollution adversely affects our health and the health of our planet.

I visited the California Air Resources Board's web site to see what it had to say on the subject. They didn't name fragrances or fabric softeners in the current program to regulate VOCs. However, at least fragrances are mentioned specifically in an "update to the consumer products element of the State Implementation Plan (SIP)" -- work starting fall 1999.

Following are some excerpts, plus my thoughts, CARB's updated figures, and more of my musings.

Consumer Products Program -- CARB updated Feb. 2, 1999 [Do keep in mind that sites change their webpages from time to time, so some may be missing and some may have changed drastically since this was written. You can now see this one via the WayBack Machine at]

    "The Consumer Products Program is an important part of CARB's overall effort to reduce the amount of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are emitted from the use of consumer products in homes and institutions. 'Consumer product' means a chemically formulated product used by household and institutional consumers, including, but not limited to, detergents; cleaning compounds; polishes; floor finishes; cosmetics; personal care products; home, lawn, and garden products; disinfectants; sanitizers; aerosol paints; and automotive specialty products; but does not include other paint products, furniture coatings, or architectural coatings.

    "VOCs that are emitted into the air from consumer products and other sources (motor vehicles, stationary sources, etc.) react with other pollutants under sunlight to form ground-level ozone and particulate matter (PM 10), the main ingredients in smog. Reducing VOC emissions from consumer products therefore plays an integral part in ARB's effort to reduce smog in California. ..."

From the fact sheet -- updated May 16, 1999 -- Consumer Products Compliance Program "Manager - Chuck Beddow; 916.322.6033

    "Why Regulate Consumer Products?

    "Consumer Products emit about 260 tons per day of VOCs in California alone. These emissions represent approximately 15% of the total VOCs emitted by all stationary sources in California. The good news is that by establishing standards for maximum VOC content of consumer products, the California Air Resources Board expects to reduce these emissions 50% by the year 2000, providing a healthier environment for everyone.

    "Who Needs to Comply?

    • Manufacturers and marketers

    • Distributors and wholesalers

    • Retailers

    • Consumers

    • Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) Standards for Consumer Products. ..."

    "No person shall sell, supply, offer for sale, or manufacture for sale in California any consumer product which, at the time of sale or manufacture, contains volatile organic compounds in excess of the limits specified in the Table of Standards after the specified effective dates (CCR, Section 94509). ..."

Consumers? Consumers??? I pondered: How can consumers be expected to comply?

We are not allowed to know pertinent information regarding the VOCs of consumer products. Trade secrets seem to protect the industry -- not from "rip-off" products, but from informed consumers.

Now, I still don't know how consumers can be held accountable for complying with VOC standards, but I do have an inch thick book to help me -- or further confuse me -- as I ponder my query. The document is titled, Initial Statement of Reasons for Proposed Amendments to the California Consumer Products Regulations, released, Sept. 10, 1999.

I also asked for updated figures, which I'll excerpt for you, from an ARB e-mailed message:

    "... we estimated that the [VOC] emissions from consumer products was about 280 tons per day in 1997. This estimate is based upon: the extensive 1997 Consumer and Commercial Products Survey which included over 14,000 products sold in California grouped in 100 different categories of consumer products; the 1997 aerosol coatings survey; and to a limited extent upon the 1990 U.S. EPA survey data for emissions from numerous small categories, which were not resurveyed in 1997.

    "... we now feel that our original estimate for emissions from consumer products in 1990 should have been closer to 326 tons per day rather than 265 tons per day. ... It is discussed in Vol II, Chap IV" [Initial Statement ...]

We consumers do have a obligation to shop responsibly. But, we must be informed by our government -- and the media -- that our consumer products are VOCs that contribute to ozone and urban smog formation.

How many consumers realize that the fragrances they use in personal care and cleaning products are VOCs? How can the general public know with all of the "ya gotta have it!" advertising foisted upon them? Advertising clearly doesn't give the public the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Besides, the industry's version of their touted "thorough testing" means they've checked a fragrance for its dermatological effects upon the primary user. Skin problems for the user are noted. No one in industry or our Food and Drug Administration seems to give a tinker's damn about the skin effects of non users, nor do they test for the respiratory, systemic or long-term effects of these toxic VOCs upon user and nonuser. I think it is high time that fragrance products carry warnings that other chemicals -- e.g., over-the-counter and prescribed drugs -- carry. Perhaps if the public but knew the truth, they would give a care for the air, for their health, for the health of their children and pets, for our planet. And that thought brings me to ozone.

Ozone is necessary up high. Ozone is not good down low. Calif. Air Resources Board informs us: "Ozone is a strong irritant ... can cause constriction of the airways ... forcing the respiratory system to work harder ... Chronic exposure to ozone may cause permanent damage in deep portions of the lung. ... Not only does ozone adversely affect human and animal health, but it also affects vegetation throughout most of California resulting in reduced yield and quality in agricultural crops and disfiguration or unsatisfactory growth in ornamental vegetation. ..." [Vol II, Chap IV, pg 40, 41, 42]

Obviously, health will improve when standards are set to reduce the VOCs emitted by consumer products. Let's hope there will be a mind to reducing the neurotoxic and carcinogenic characteristics of many consumer products also.

To continue with my stream of consciousness here: More and more we hear about VOCs, smog, ozone; about global warming. And for good cause.

But from what I've been able to gather, the message is all about the big guys -- big, as in beyond our capabilities to really have any major effects whatsoever. The message IS overwhelming. So, most folks tend to adopt a Why bother? attitude. We can blame industry. Blame power sources. The types of vehicles manufactured for us to drive. The gasoline we have to use. The appliances we have... All of the named sources are distant enough -- or carry a big bucks price tag -- so we can feel helpless to do anything major, immediately. We can even feel exonerated. It's them! It ain't us. While thoughts of VOCs, smog, ozone and global warming bother us, it's all so . . . sooooo beyond us. Out of reach.


Remember, CARB now states that in 1997 consumer products emitted about 280 tons per day of VOCs in California alone. And, as far as I can tell, they did not look at fragrances or fabric softeners as a part of that statistic. I think of all the times I've referred to someone wearing "tons of fragrances" and really thought of it as my exaggeration barely describing the person's exaggerated odorovecting.

Little did I know: People do wear and use TONS of fragrances. It's not my exageration! People are truly contributing to the tons of VOCs adversely affecting our planet. Now we know! By our most personal actions, we the people can contribute to the lowering of the VOCs.

Millions of us have already led the way. The industry and its flacks (apolgists), of course, label us psychosomatic, state we are somatizing, hypochondriacs ... have successfully lobbied against us claiming our illnesses are not real. How many remember the Environmental Illness Briefing Paper, released in 1990 by the Chemical Manufacturers Association? (Available in the BEST of the Reactor, edited by Susan Molloy and online at

But those of us -- along with our astute doctors -- who recognize the underlying causes of our chronic illnesses and disabilities, have demonstrated that we can live successfully with low-emitting VOC products. We live without synthesized fragrances in presonal care products, as well as in household cleaning and maintenance products. We do not use pesticides. We use safer paints. We live better, healthier, safer lives without synthetic carpets and adhesives. Simply put: We do not pollute as we clean our persons, our clothes, our homes.

We have also learned to live with critters who share our planet. And for those of us who just can't share space with an invading army of "pests," we have learned of safer methods to discourage their arrival and/or have learned of safer ways to send them to another plane. We find their route of entry and block it. We don't allow crumbs or scraps to linger, which attrack them. Even public entities have learned that if they remove their trash at night, they are less likely to invite in the cockroach. We have our ways . . . and they are safer for us and for our planet. We have shown that zero-pesticide or, at most, true Integrated Pest Management practices work. (Be alert to nefarious pesticide practices that claim IPM, but use very toxic pesticides anyway. See Steve Tvedten -- and

We harbingers are the leaders!

Many of us find we can far better manage our myriad of chronic symptoms as a result of our switch to safer products. We, the harbingers, our children, our children's children, our family and friends, our neighborhoods, our planet, . . . ALL are healthier for our efforts. We have led the way. Despite criticism. Despite chronic diseases brought about by our living with effects of poisoning by our modern petrochemical-based consumer products.

We all -- users and nonusers -- are worthy of safe, low-emitting VOC products, which ARE thoroughly tested before marketing. Consumers, you CAN do something. If the PTB (powers that be) will not listen and act to protect us, then you "vote with your pocketbook." Purchase those safer, lower-emitting VOC products. Purchase organics. Educate your workplace, school, healthcare facility, place of worship, government entities, ... about using safer, cleaner, eco-friendly products.

Know that if you or a family member winds up with MCS, you surely will have to change your ways. Better to do it sooner than later . . . and benfit our planet too.

We all are stakeholders when it comes to breathing.


Thoughts in 2003

Since retirement in October 1998 and my body's removal from a workplace it deemed too toxic -- and with acupuncture, herbs and chiropractic treatments -- my health is showing signs of improvement. I am no longer susceptible to normal allergies.

I've returned, in that regard, to my "old normal." And for that, I'm extremely grateful. Once again, I can thoroughly enjoy the fragrances Mother Nature sends my way via roses, wisteria, lilacs, pinks, lavender, jasmine, . . . Of course, we do not use pesticides.

During my teens, I used to pitch hay without hay fever. Years later I participated in a dig in an archeological site in Marin County, again without allergies although others were affected by the pollen and goodness knows what all -- including our son who was a fellow student at the time.

But during the last couple of decades of my career, fragrance formulas changed. Fragrances moved from being mostly animal and plant essences to scents synthesized using derivatives of petrochemicals. Fragrances were added to a greater array of products. Fragrances were widely advertised giving people the feeling they had every right to wear fragrances morning, noon, and night. Fragrances moved into the health care arena big time, in cleaning and maintenance products as well as in the perfumes worn by staff. (Previously it had been written that nurses were not allowed to wear perfume to work, but with the advent of really toxic perfumes that changed. Why?)

With the petrochemical poisoning of my body in my former workplace, I not only acquired MCS, but I became about as allergic as anyone. The allergies were uncomfortable. The MCS was on another plane. But while I was the only one diagnosed MCS, other workers were developing other symptoms of Environmental Illness. Cancers, benign tumors, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, migraines, Parkinson's . . . I still firmly believe that had air quality been taken into consideration, the health of many of us could have been spared. I'll go to my grave wondering if a couple of lives could have been spared as well.

I'll guarantee you that everything was always considered within the range of "normal" within that workplace and therefore no changes were ever deemed necessary, except to ostracize me to an even more toxic office. But that sure was a lesson to staff: Do not complain to management about the overwhelming perfumes applied throughout the day (in a workplace posted against sexual harassment); their use of pesticides applied monthly; their working on cabinets with high-emitting VOC adhesives during core business hours, their seemingly constant use of high-emitting VOC paints, roofing sealants applied during core business hours . . . Oh, yes, that was just a little mistake -- twice within one week. But while the affected staff took their lesson well and did not complain to management, they certainly spoke with me. And, they did get sick.

Living with MCS means life becomes a new nowhere-close-to-normal-in-any-regard situation for not only the person who has MCS, but for any family member or friend who wants to remain close to the poisoned individual. I've been most fortunate in that regard, as my family and friends have stayed with me. But I can certainly tell that it can be a real drag. I still suffer various reactions to perfumed products used by others for personal care . . . my symptoms vary depending upon the variety of chemical combos used to concoct a particular scent.

It's that always having to think about a safe-enough family activity and then the legitimate concern, when one finds a day at Muir Woods is equivalent to a day in a fragrance factory. It too is having to remember to come-to-mom's-with-dirty- clothes because the other family uses highly scented products for laundry (Year End Story Time: A Family Visit It's the remembering the oxygen when attepmpting a family meal in a restaurant off core hours and with request for fragrance-free accommodation given ahead of time. It's trying to work as a team in the backyard and then dealing with me when I am wiped out by fabric softeners wafting unbidden throughout my neighborhood. (I can be adversely affected by fabric softeners being emitted from laundromats when driving, therefore windows must be rolled up, even when my husband wants them down.) As I say, it's a drag to be with someone who lives with MCS, but if our family and friends don't think ahead of time with us, about every breath we take, the consequences are an even bigger drag.

As I see it, the really sticky wicket we face is economic and on two fronts. If people gave up their fragrances, they just might not need their plethora of drugs. Fragrances can make one ill, pharmaceuticals can help one cope. For a while. And, if one is lucky. Iatrogenesis is real. (See "Doctors Kill More People Than Guns and Traffic Accidents Combined," By Don Harkins, The Idaho Observer - April, 1999

My guess is that that economic picture is the main reason we are not listened to when we speak, our words are not read when we write, and our deaths are recorded as anything but chemical poisoning when we die. (Should I check out because of pesticide or perfume poisoning, I want my obit to state just that.)

Yes, MCS is a drag for others. For those living with MCS, it can be a question of life or death. But if you help us in our choice for life by using safer, lower-emitting VOC products, you will also help yourself and your family, and the life of this planet, including the marvelous creatures and plants that share it with us. -- barb

Los Angeles Times, front page
Chemicals in Home a Big Smog Source
Cleansers, cosmetics and other products pump 100 tons of pollutants daily into the
Southland's air, ranking second to tailpipe emissions, studies show.

By Gary Polakovic; Times Staff Writer; March 9, 2003
"... 'It's the same stuff that comes out of a tailpipe or a smokestack' said Jerry Martin, a spokesman for the California Air Resources Board. "We're talking hundreds of different kinds of products, stuff everyone uses. It's almost one secret area of emissions that you don't hear about and no one talks about.' "The offending items include detergents, cleaning compounds, glues, polishes, floor finishes, cosmetics, perfume [emphasis added], antiperspirants, rubbing alcohol, room fresheners, car wax, paint and lawn care products. ..."

Originally at,1,1846847.story

LA Times has older articles available for purchase. Search their site at

February 27, 2007

Well, folks, first it was adult onset acne, then my occasional bouts of chemical induced asthma turned into chronic asthma, then chronic bronchitis, then COPD. As my fragrance-poisoning in the workplace proceeded, headaches kicked in, both sinus and migraines and by March 1992, I was finally diagnosed with MCS.

Since the late 1970s, through the early 1980s I had been pleading with my former employer to curtail the use of perfumes in the workplace. Too many managers were imbued with the loading on of fragrances, as were some of the staff. I got nowhere fast with my request. And then, it became obvious that the use of said products only accelerated. I look upon that as harassment and assault . . . they did not. The products, while not proven safe by any government agency, were legal to purchase. Period.

After March 1992, when I began to learn more about the harmful effects of fragrances through the compilation of information by Julia Kendall (whom I then worked with to get her info into one-page flyer formt) I began taking lots of information on fragrances into my employer. To no avail. I learned of Mary Lamielle and she sent me lots of information on workplaces accommodating the aleady chemically injured. Got no where.

Eventually I learned of the document of September 1996, Access for People With EI/MCS and Other Related Conditions, a booklet by Sen. Milton Marks, Chair, and Joan Ripple, published by Calif. State Senate (in three parts at . I couldn't budge management. But, in 1997, they budged me. To a more toxic office. This is typical behavior of management teams who really do not want someone with disabilities around . . . and especially one who tries to educate them to better accommodate those with disabilities. As I was not the only one having fragrances ruin my life slowly over the years to the point of MCS, I was not the only disabled employ to suffer being ostracized to a more toxic office. My body's response to that was a tumor, that at first was thought to be an ovarian mass. As it turned out, I learned AFTER I took early retirement, that it was simply a benign, pedunculated tumor that masked as an ovarian mask. But, perhaps, taking early retirement helped save my life. Two young men, without the lifestyles one would associate with pancreatic cancer, died . . . and then the agency started paying a little attention to air quality. Like magic.

And, thanks to the 1995 horrendous ruling of John Wodatch, Chief ,Public Access Section of the DOJ, wearing fragrance products was determined to be a "personal rights" issue. See

    "In most circumstances, it would not be 'reasonable' to require an employer to regulate such personal choices by its employees." And that was in response to a person asking if the "ADA would require medical care providers to require their employees to refrain from wearing fragrances when they are providing services to a person who has multiple chemical sensitivities."

How Wodatch could so cavalierly overlook the personal right to breather cleaner air . . . and how he has never revisited that earlier ruling once the poisons were learned . .. I'll never know.

But the fact remains, that if you do not have a management team that is willing to clear the air by instituting fragrance-free policies for personal care, as well as for their cleaining and maintenance products, employees will get sick and cost money in lost production and in taking sick leave. Some will have to retire early, some will die prematurely. Allowing air polluted by perfumed products is deleterious to employee health and to the employer's economy. But, just try to get mainstream media to pick that up. Not with all their ads for fragranced products and for the drugs to help combat the early symptoms of fragrance poisonings, they won't.

Since July 2005, I've moved on from JUST living with MCS, to now living with severe renal disease. I was diagnosed at stage four and moved rather quickly into stage five, but I've since been holding my own. I still do not use the medical industry's drugs and I have not yet begun dialysis. But that doesn't mean I'm doing nothing. Thanks to my dear friend and colleague, Betty Bridges, I immediately went on a strict renal diet. I've also developed one hell of a health team that is in this with me, including my Kaiser internist, but I've totally given up on the nephrolgy department, who could not / would not even try to understand I was already chemically injured and already had adverse events to their favorite drugs. Because of MCS, I decided I had to fight renal disease outside the norm, where the nephrologists too easily accept their fallback position of "put 'em on dialysis and then transplant 'em." If they lose the patient, hell, that patient had renal disease anyway, what does one expect? Well, I expect as healthy a life as I can muster considering the cards I've been dealt. And, thanks to my team of healthcare providers, I'm still asymptomatic when it comes to kidney disease. However, I still suffer the very symptoms I'm supposed to look for as a case of worsening kidneys, but they are my REACTIONS TO FRAGRANCES!

The only reason I mention renal disease here is that it is one of the many diseases that are noted for their "unexplained" soaring rates. I cannot help but wonder, How many people with severe fragrance or pesticide poisoinings go on to develop renal disease? Of course, there are no data bases. And the data bases I've been able to uncover do not ask about the use of fragrance products. Convenient. For the industry.

How the medical industry can, keep a straight face as they use that one-word, non-explanation explanation, "UNEXPLAINED," without ever looking at the poisoning of the public by way of the unregulated flavors and fragrance industry, I will never understand. Except as long as they refuse to look at flavors and fragrances as a cause of a wide variety of illnesses and diseases -- remember, IT IS THE COMBINATION OF CHEMICALS -- they can just keep pushing their drugs, which also are petrochemical-derived products . . . that in turn contain dyes, and petrochemical derived flavors and fragrances. Talk about your vicious circle! It is past time due for a change . . .

Especially now that we know that fragrances emit a hell of a lot of CO2. All we have to do to have our own small step at improving global warming is to give up our reliance upon petrochemically derived products. Including fragrances in personal care products and in those used for "environmental enahancement," cleaning and maintenance.

If you'd like to follow along on this renal journey with me, you may want to click out to Kidney Disease at and Wilkie Wages War at

-- barb

For a lot more and varied information on fragrances, see EHN's section, Fragrance Info at

For information on access and accommodation, please visit EHN's page Take Heart! at

Visit EHN's Avoid Fragrances -- a list of links to august organizations, which inform their patients that fragrances are triggers to illnesses. See

To learn more about the chemicals in fragrances, see:
FDA Petition: -- FDA to declare "misbranded" fragrances released to market without adequate testing, according to their own regulations already on their books.

    For information on the TRADE SECRET-protected chemicals in modern synthetic fragrances, please visit EHN's Citizens' Petition before the FDA, "Docket Number: 99P-1340/CP 1." Included is FDA contact information, as well as analyses of six popular scents, plus the image of a label with links out to more edifying information regarding the chemicals used to formulate modern, synthetic scents. FDA Petition

    Folks, do take advantage of this golden opportunity to inform the FDA about your negative reactions to synthetic fragrances, whether first- or secondhand. Reference "Docket Number 99P-1340/CP 1"

For other information on fragrances, the fragrance industry and/or the petition, please also visit the website of Betty Bridges, RN, the Fragranced Products Information Network at http:/// (new domain name).

Learn through the Your Environment columns by Francesca Lyman

Visit the site of theInternational Society of Doctors for the Environment
"All people are responsible for the environment.
Doctors are DOUBLY responsible!
How long can doctors continue to remain indifferent?"

Comments? (Barb's email is no longer valid, please contact EHN). Please put WWW in subject line. Thanks.

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The Environmental Health Network (EHN) [of California] is a 501 (c) (3) non profit agency and offers support and information for the chemically injured. In this section, EHN brings you a few stories that appeared in past issues of The New Reactor EHN's HomePage is