If an odor control product both reduces indoor air quality and has negative environmental effects, can it really be called an air “freshener”? The sad truth is that many odor control products, particularly aerosols, contain ingredients proven to be detrimental to indoor air, harmful to the environment or even hazardous to human health. Since people spend 90% of their time indoors, businesses should be wary of regularly using air care products that may result in any of these negative consequences for their employees or visitors. Facility managers should therefore carefully avoid products containing certain compounds known to damage the environment and select effective odor control technologies designed to minimize environmental impact.
Avoid these Acronyms: CFCs and VOCs
Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) sound like terms that might cause students to doze off to in chemistry class. However, they deserve the attention of facility managers as they can negatively impact the environment or pollute indoor air.
Since the 1970s, manufacturers of odor control solutions have phased out the use of CFCs in their products, due to the discovery that the compounds deplete the earth’s protective ozone layer, allowing ultraviolet rays to more rapidly warm the planet’s lower atmosphere. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) outlawed the use of CFCs in aerosol products in 1994. However, facility managers should still ensure that the products they purchase explicitly contain no CFCs, including dichlorodifluoromethane and trichlorofluoromethane.
Volatile organic compounds are defined by their ability to evaporate from liquid to gas, even at room temperature. Some examples commonly found in aerosols include acetone, butane, propane, toluene and ethanol. Other air care products may contain formaldehyde, a VOC that is also a known carcinogen which businesses should avoid.
These VOCs allow some aerosols to seemingly disappear into thin air as their particles release a fragrance. But as these compounds evaporate, they release organic gases (containing carbon) into the indoor air. While this is another form of carbon emission – which is known to contribute to climate change – it also can impact the health of a building’s occupants. For example, exposed people report headaches, dizziness or even worsened asthma symptoms. Because VOCs can exist in concentrations up to ten times higher indoors than outdoors, businesses should seek out non-aerosol products with no VOCs added in order to limit the potential health and sustainability consequences.
Pick Propellant-free Products
Many aerosol dispensers rely on substances known as propellants to release their fragrances into the air. Gaseous propellants include nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide – and they often contain hydrocarbons to compress the gases in order to get the desired spray effect. However, most propellants contain carbon, meaning each time an aerosol sprays, it emits more carbon. On top of the environmental effects, propellants make aerosols highly flammable, carrying the potential to combust and cause further environmental harm.
Fortunately, products exist on the market today that use innovative oxygen fuel cell technology to release fragrance consistently without using propellants. Not only are these products safer and more environmentally friendly, they eliminate odor more effectively without the “spray-and-fade” effect that occurs with aerosols.
Beyond the Obvious
Many of the hazards described here are not easily detectable by facility visitors or employees, but that does not mean they should be ignored by building managers. These decision-makers should always keep in mind the wellbeing of occupants and sustainability strategies that support a building’s indoor air quality and the planet as a whole.
Businesses can credibly claim to operate sustainably only if they choose and use products that effectively curb their carbon footprints. Avoiding aerosol air fresheners with environmentally damaging chemicals, including CFCs, VOCs and propellants, and replacing them with a more sustainable option is a positive step toward fresher, cleaner indoor air and greater environmental stewardship. Finally, with a valid claim to sustainability backed up by their use of the right products, businesses can ultimately improve their brand image in the eyes of environmentally conscious individuals, whether they are building tenants, employees or consumers.