Getting Clear on the Conversation of Indoor Pollutants

By PSU EcoMerge Capstone - 8:31 PM


     Typically, when speaking of pollutants we are talking on a macro level – entire ecological systems (climate change for example) dominate political and scientific conversations. One will find the local news running a blurb now and again talking about the dangers of something like aerosol sprays, smokes, molds, or gases in the home – a blurb is meant to introduce or promote larger conversation, unfortunately this rarely ever appears on any substantive social level. This leads to a confusion that affects one’s ability understand and engage the issue in a meaningful way.
  So what's the history of this kind of story? Let’s take a brief look at aerosol spray: aerosol was invented in the 1920’s by the USGA – its was designed to pressurize insect spray for American soldiers in the field, finding one of its best uses in the Pacific Theatre of WWII. It was not until the 1970’s that the correlation of aerosol use to ozone damage was made. Becoming aware of this, companies abandoned the ozone depleting chemical – chlorofluorocarbons (CFC’s) – with EPA regulations and the Clean Air Act following suit. All consumer and most other aerosol products within the U.S. now use hydrocarbons and compressed gases like nitrous oxide – which do not damage the protective ozone layer.
The conversation has moved on – though, you may still find the misnomer that aerosol spray is bad for the environment because it depletes or damages the protective ozone. But why is this? Perhaps the confusion has to do with the mixing of domestic and international perspectives (abroad, especially in undeveloped countries, CFC can still be found in sprays) – perhaps we never really engaged with what troubled us well enough on the first go round – or maybe just because this was true for some of us. This is just one particular case: these ‘bad pictures’ thrive in the gaps between science and our application of ethics – understanding the macro/micro distinction of the conversation is important. 
       Aerosol indeed affects the ozone but not as the traditional view shows. Rather, at ground level via things like volatile organic compounds – also found in fingernail polish, perfumes, mouthwashes, pump hair sprays, and roll-on and stick deodorants etc. – ground level ozone is something we do not want to protect – in this case it is possible to be right for the wrong reasons. Meaning is generated by use, when we use a conversation in the wrong kind of way (we create bad pictures), the meaning is then distorted and thus so is our real understanding. 




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