by Claris Olson, HSC Environmental Health Specialist
The Consumer Aerosol Products Council is running a contest for children and teachers entitled "It’s O.K. to Spray" on the pretext that since CFCs have been banned for most aerosol products, there is no problem with using aerosols.
Are they joking?
Promoting the use of aerosols to children sounds like a bad movie stunt, not something that teachers or school administrators would take seriously. But the group records years of participation, including a recent rally where students sprayed aerosol cans and urged listeners to "Hey, spray! It’s okay!"
At a family science night hosted with funds from the contest, one student "tabulates student survey results of their favorite uses for aerosols." (And we won’t even get into talking about schools promoting healthy eating and proper spelling; the winner of this contest was Readi Wip, with Cheez Wiz coming in a close second.)
We love the idea of teaching kids about science and the environment. Getting kids and families involved and enthusiastic about chemistry and its applications to our world is definitely a good thing, and it’s commendable when students and teachers really explore an issue and present their findings to the community.
But when corporations provide funding to schools with the goal of promoting products that can be dangerous to children – and do so under the guise of environmental education – that’s a problem.
Although it may be true that aerosols now constitute a minor component of outdoor air pollution, the indoor air environment is an entirely different story – with dangers for children that definitely aren’t a joke.
According to the EPA, indoor air is typically 5 to 10 times more polluted than outdoor air and is frequently up to 100 times more polluted. So why would anyone contribute to indoor air pollution by spraying an unnecessary aerosol?
Aerosols and indoor air pollution are especially dangerous, of course, when children are involved. When chemicals are aerosolized, the sprayed particles are so small that they can become suspended in the air for an extended period of time, allowing them to be inhaled deeply into the lungs. In proportion to their body size, children breathe more air than adults – so they are absorbing more of the chemical from the aerosol canister.
Children are also more vulnerable to the pollution because their bodies are still developing. Many chemicals that adults can absorb in small quantities without major risk – chemicals such as lead – can cause serious harm to children’s development.
For children and schools, the other major issue to consider is asthma. Asthma is the leading cause of student absenteeism due to a chronic disease and has almost doubled in the last 20 years. It is unconscionable that any group would promote exposing children unnecessarily to aerosols that may trigger an asthma attack – much less encourage children to needlessly spray aerosols and chant that it’s "okay!"
From an environmental perspective, aerosols – even without CFCs – serve as highly inefficient delivery mechanisms for chemicals, leading to unnecessary waste and product transport. When it comes to cost, aerosols are dramatically more expensive and less efficient than their non-aerosol counterparts. The amount of chemical dispensed in one $3 can of aerosol, for example, is equivalent to an amount of concentrated chemical that can be diluted and applied with a spray bottle at a price that ranges from 2 to 20 cents.
Promoting learning about the environment is important.
But promoting children’s use of aerosols in a manner that could pose risks to their health is simply irresponsible – and not a joke at all.