Aerosol products have been used for generations, but in recent decades we have realized that they can be dangerous to the environment as a whole and especially to children. However, many people use them without thinking.
Unexpected aerosol hazards
There's no denying it, aerosols increase (not decrease) air pollution in homes and buildings. The chemicals used to create this aerosol effect are often not environmentally friendly. Even the EPA – the Environmental Protection Agency – has publicly acknowledged this.
And if you take the time to look at the ingredients in most aerosols, you're sure to find perfumes and fragrances on that list. However, there can be hundreds of other ingredients, and many of them are quite toxic or hazardous to the environment. Many aerosol sprays contain highly toxic chemicals like xylene and formaldehyde—yes, the same chemical used to preserve anatomical specimens in a jar.
These toxic ingredients also include neurotoxins and carcinogens, which are extremely dangerous to adults, children and pets. This chemical combination is sprayed out of many aerosol cans and poses a real threat to the environment and our health.
In addition to inhaling aerosolized toxins in the air, we also have to worry about the surfaces on which these toxins settle. When these substances are on surfaces, they transfer to your hands and can quickly end up in your mouth. Most people underestimate this danger from aerosols, but it is much more widespread and harmful than is generally believed.
Aerosol impact on the environment
Even more troubling is how aerosol—which is essentially tiny particles suspended in gas—affects our environment. According to Chien Wang, an atmospheric scientist in MIT's Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, aerosols can actually change precipitation patterns and percentages around the world.
While the general public often associates aerosol spray cans with damaging the ozone layer, this is no longer the case. Companies phased out these ozone-depleting chemicals, called CFCs, or chlorofluorocarbons, nearly 30 years ago. The vast majority of aerosol products now use other propellants, such as nitrous oxide or hydrocarbons, which do not damage the Earth's ozone layer.
And of course, even removing ozone-depleting chemicals from aerosol sprays doesn't make aerosols completely safe. Every time you spray an aerosol product, you increase your family's carbon footprint due to the compressed gases and hydrocarbons contained in the aerosol. In fact, the CFC-free aerosol sprays used today contain volatile organic compounds that can themselves increase ozone levels at ground level, which in turn creates smog that is dangerous to humans.
Minimizing the use of aerosol
The EPA strongly recommends avoiding the use of aerosol sprays whenever possible.
Other problems with aerosols
In addition to the environmental and health hazards caused by the chemicals used in aerosol sprays, they can cause a number of other significant hazards in the home. They can be especially dangerous for children, who can use them incorrectly and dangerously.
How aerosols work
Every aerosolized product is a type of container that holds some substance under high pressure. When you press the button on the top of the container, it releases the substance in question.
The result is a fine spray of the substance in the air or on the surface. This type of aerosol is widely used throughout the world and is commonly found in many homes. However, there are many safety issues associated with their use, and parents in particular need to be aware of such issues.
Physical hazards that Aerosols pose
Some of the most significant hazards associated with aerosols are related to the fact that aerosol sprays are kept under pressure (and sometimes high pressure) in a container. Under normal conditions, this pressure serves a useful purpose and allows for a sustained and controlled release of the substance. However, if something goes catastrophically wrong, these aerosolized products can easily catch fire or even explode.
There are also potential safety issues associated with using an aerosol product. For example, it is important to make sure that children understand that they should never spray aerosol products in someone else's face. They also need to know that these products should only be sprayed for a short period of time. Additionally, most aerosol products should only be used in a well-ventilated area to ensure fresh air flows throughout the room.
Aerosol cans were invented generations ago and were considered safe at the time. Today, we recognize that aerosol sprays can be a major threat to the environment, threatening both the ozone layer and human health in general. But in addition to the wider problems caused by aerosol sprays, they pose a particular danger in the home if they are not used correctly or if they are deliberately misused. We should always prioritize our personal health and safety as well as the health and safety of the environment in our daily lives and avoid aerosols.