Environmental Facts

Aerosol and Environmental Facts

As awareness of our environment grows, many people have questions about the products and packages they buy, including aerosol products. To help the environment for ourselves and our children, we need to know the facts, so we can be informed responsible citizens, educators and consumers.

Many people are surprised to learn that aerosol products do not harm the earth's ozone layer, and they do reduce waste through their long product shelf life and minimum spillage. Aerosol products provide important safety benefits by being tamper-resistant and tamper-evident. They require no mixing and are completely recyclable.
Aerosol Products do not contain chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) although a recent survey showed that 7 out of 10 thought the chemicals were still used in the products.

Aerosol manufacturers began to discontinue the use of CFCs when scientists discovered a possible link between the chemicals and the upper ozone. The U.S. banned the use of CFCs in 1978.

Today's aerosol products do not harm the upper ozone. Aerosol cans are made of 25% recycled material and empty cans are recyclable.

Ozone Layer

More than two decades ago, because of potential concerns about ozone depletion, American aerosol product manufacturers took the lead in reducing chlorofluocarbon (CFC) usage by switching to non-CFC propellants.

Prior to the switch, scientists were becoming increasingly concerned about the band of stratospheric ozone, a particularly active form of oxygen, which filters out much of the sun’s harmful ultraviolet radiation. This ozone layer, which surrounds the earth high up in the stratosphere, has shown signs of thinning beyond the normal seasonal variations, especially in the polar regions which have a unique meteorology. This is alarming some scientists who fear rising incidence of skin cancer and cataracts.

One of the suspects in damage to the upper ozone layer is a class of compounds called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which rise to the upper atmosphere and react with the ozone. Since 1978, when U. S. regulations banned CFC use as aerosol propellants, virtually all aerosol products have not contained CFCs. Less than one percent of total U.S. aerosol production is CFC-containing products, which are allowed by the U.S. government for medical and pharmaceutical products such as asthma inhalers. Even these are being phased out as formulations with non-CFC propellants are approved as suitable alternatives.

Throughout the 1980s, several countries—including Canada, Mexico, Australia and several European nations—passed regulations banning CFC use in aerosol containers. Under the Montreal Protocol agreement, CFC propellant production was phased out as of January 1, 1996 in industrialized countries and will be phased out by 2010 in developing nations.

Cleaner Air

Ozone in the stratosphere protects the earth and its inhabitants. But at ground level, ozone can be unhealthy—in fact it’s a component of what has become known as “smog.” Smog formation requires three ingredients:

  • 1) Nitrogen oxides, which come almost entirely from anthropogenic (man-made) sources such as automobile exhaust and power plants;
  • 2) Sunlight; and
  • 3) Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), both naturally occurring and man-made. " Volatile" means evaporating, and virtually anything that gives off an odor or quickly evaporates into the air is a source of VOCs.

  • The U. S. EPA estimates that of the major man-made sources of VOCs, 58 percent are from industrial facilities, 37 percent are from vehicle emissions and 5 percent are from consumer products. The portion of these products packaged in aerosol containers accounts for only a fraction of that amount (and is largely composed of the least reactive—or least smog- forming—type of VOCs.

    Natural sources—flowers, trees, decaying organic matter, animals and even humans—account for at least as much VOC emissions as anthropogenic sources and probably more. However, all sources of VOCs—including paints, solvents, textiles, household products, cosmetics and personal care products— are being examined in an effort to clean up our air.

CFCs - Scientists make an Important Discovery

In 1974, Nobel prize winner Dr. F. Sherwood Rowland and his colleague Dr. Mario Molina proposed a theory that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) damage the stratospheric ozone layer. At the time, CFCs were being used in refrigerators, air conditioners, industrial processes and as propellants for some aerosol products. The scientists were worried about the stratospheric ozone layer because it consists of a particularly active form of oxygen that filters out much of the sun’s harmful ultraviolet radiation. Scientists continue to warn that ozone depletion will allow rising levels of ultraviolet radiation to reach the Earth’s surface, which may lead to a potential increase in skin cancer, cataracts and global warming.

CFCs - American Aerosol Industry Reacts

As a result of Rowland and Molina’s discovery, American aerosol manufacturers took the lead in switching from CFC propellants to suitable alternatives. In fact, by 1978 when the U.S. EPA banned the use of CFC propellants, most of them had already voluntarily stopped using CFCs. An exception was made for some asthma inhalers, but they became CFC-free in 2008. This completed the phase out of all CFC propellants in consumer aerosol products produced and sold in the U.S. Other ozone-depleting substances that were used in some aerosol formulations for non-propellant purposes also have been phased out according to the legislative timetable.

CFCs - Other Countries Take Action

Throughout the 1980s, several countries–including Canada, Mexico, Australia and several European nations–passed regulations banning CFC use in aerosol containers. Under the Montreal Protocol agreement, CFC propellant production was phased out as of January 1, 1996 in industrialized countries and will be phased out by 2010 in developing nations.