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Polluting paint thinners targeted

March 6, 2009 |  9:56 pm

That sickly smell that wafts from paint thinners and other solvents  is more than an annoyance -- it signals the emission of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, that cause smog and can also contribute to asthma and cancer. Now, in a first for the nation, Southern California air pollution officials have passed a rule to slash the release of VOCs from consumer products.

"In less than two years, the rule will have reduced VOC pollution by up to 9.75 tons per day," William A. Burke, chairman of the South Coast Air Quality Management District, said in a statement. "That is equal to shutting down all seven major oil refineries in Los Angeles County."

Consumer products, including solvents, nail polish and floor wax, are the largest source of VOCs in the region, eclipsing cars, trucks or industry, the agency said. And more than 1.2 million gallons of high-VOC paint thinners and multi-purpose solvents are sold by retail outlets in the South Coast basin each year, according to the agency.

VOCs contaminate air and water, and, in indoor applications, they can linger for hours, exposing painters, janitors and carwash workers to hazardous levels.  Luis Cabrales of the Coalition for Clean Air praised the new regulation, which takes effect in January 2010. He noted that "many workers are members of ethnic minority populations that have limited access to healthcare or proper information on the harmful effects of these products."

The rule affects more than 100 manufacturers and 12 distributors. Consumers should not notice any difference in the performance of low-VOC paint thinners, the SCAQMD said.

The agency also adopted limits on VOCs for varnishing oils and rust inhibitors used at industrial facilities, a rule that applies to steel tube and spring manufacturers, steel mills, aerospace companies and auto part makers.

-- Margot Roosevelt