Yes, your deodorant, sun block and bug spray are polluting the air

It's summertime and the living is ... smoggy.

The personal care products that you slather on each day – such as deodorant, sun block and bug spray – are now responsible for a significant amount of the smog that plagues major urban areas, a new study suggests.

In New York City, for example, air samples collected during a 2018 field mission found that these fragrant personal care products were responsible for about half of the "volatile organic compounds," or VOCs, that were generated by people but not produced by vehicle exhaust.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, these compounds are a primary ingredient in ground-level ozone (aka smog), which can trigger a variety of health problems in children, the elderly and people of all ages who have lung ailments such as asthma.

The study was published Monday in the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"The big takeaway (from the study) is how much VOC emissions from consumer products increase as urban population density increases, and how much these chemicals actually matter for producing ozone," study lead author Matthew Coggon of NOAA said.

Smog forms on warm, sunny days and is typically made worse by the chemicals that exit vehicle tailpipes and power plant and industrial smokestacks. Warmer temperatures make ozone more likely to form.

Smog covers midtown Manhattan in New York City on July 10, 2007.
Smog covers midtown Manhattan in New York City on July 10, 2007.

Ozone can be "good" or "bad," depending on where it is: Keep in mind that the ozone layer high up in the atmosphere is important because it acts like a sunscreen, blocking potentially harmful ultraviolet energy from reaching our planet's surface. Without it, humans and animals can experience increased rates of skin cancer and other ailments such as cataracts.

The naturally occurring ozone high up in the atmosphere is the "good" ozone and is in contrast to the "bad" ozone near the surface, which is man-made pollution that can cause respiratory problems.

Pollutants emitted by cars, power plants, industrial boilers, refineries, chemical plants and other sources are often cited as the chief cause of the "bad" ozone, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Decades of regulations on motor vehicle tailpipe emissions have helped to greatly reduce VOCs.

The study shows that emissions from volatile consumer products are ubiquitous, contributing up to half or more of the total human-caused VOC emissions in the U.S. and European cities that were studied. Vehicle traffic dominates the remainder.

Coggon said the current generation of air quality models do not accurately simulate both the emissions and atmospheric chemistry of these volatile consumer products and must be updated in order to capture their full impact on urban air quality.

In areas where ozone pollution is a problem, new strategies to control VOC sources may need to be devised, he said. “We know now that these products are making ozone pollution worse,” Coggon said.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Smog pollution: Personal care products responsible for smog