Study: Humans contribute to air pollution through burnoff of skin and hair products

Posted at 6:42 AM, May 12, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-14 06:47:22-04

(RNN) – Cars, factories and even cows are well-known to emit fumes that heavily pollute the air. But what about you?

Yes, you.

According to recent research, people – via personal care products like hair spray, lotion and deodorant – can contribute a significant amount to urban air pollution.

Researchers took measurements in Boulder, CO, and Toronto of a compound which contains silicone, and using that marker were able to distinguish the amount of pollutants in the air that simply drifted off of humans.

Matthew Coggon, a research scientist at the University of Colorado who was the lead author of the study, wrote on the website The Conversation:

These products don’t stick to our bodies permanently. Over the course of the day, compounds in deodorants, lotions, hair gels, and perfumes evaporate from our skin and eventually make their way outdoors. Now there’s new evidence to suggest that these products are major sources of air pollution in urban areas.

The study found that in Boulder, on average the population emitted six to 11 pounds of D5 siloxane, the compound they tracked, per day. Researchers compared that with benzene, a vehicle emissions marker, which was recorded at about 33 pounds per day.

That means people in the city were producing something like 1/5 to 1/3 as much D5 siloxane as their cars emitted benzene, simply in hygiene product burnoff.

At least part of the reason the D5 siloxane numbers would rival benzene now can be attributed to big gains in vehicle emissions standards in recent decades.

According to the EPA, new vehicles are 98-99 percent cleaner for most tailpipe pollutants compared to about 50 years ago. And Coggon wrote that “combined emissions of common pollutants from cars have decreased by 65 percent since the 1970s.”

The result, Coggon wrote, is that, “Cars today emit fewer smog-inducing organic compounds, while other sources are now becoming important contributors to air pollution.”

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