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Project on Government Oversight




Aerosols Give Business and Public Big Boom: Where Is the Protection in the EPA?

May 1, 1994 


The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is ignoring its own experts, as well as fire officials who are concerned about the potential dangers of explosions and/or fires caused by routine usage or storage of consumer aerosol products. These products have become dramatically more dangerous since CFC's as propellants were replaced by such highly flammable substances as butane and propane. Many people do not consider a pilot light, a lit cigarette, or an electrical appliance a sufficient ignition source to cause an aerosol to ignite and/or explode. Instead of informing the public about the potential hazards, the EPA is responding to pressure from the manufacturers of these products who are resistant to changing warning labels.

An internal EPA memo estimated, . . ."when projected to the population of the U.S. at large, suggest an excess of 500 fires/explosions/year in this country" are caused by aerosol products.

In another EPA memo, one official wrote, "Incident data from the CPSC [Consumer Product Safety Commission] indicates that 60% of pesticide aerosols incidents result in explosions that caused injuries requiring medical attention. . . many incidents have resulted due to abuse of the aerosol containers; however, if the aerosol cans were obviously marked as 'Flammable' or 'Extremely Flammable' some of the abuse may be prevented."

In another internal EPA memo, one official wrote: "I believe the PR withdraw you have outlined would give the appearance of the Agency beginning bed with the CSMA. They have presented no data, tried to bully us into compliance, and have succeeded. The CSMA does not regulate the pesticides industry, EPA does. EPA regulates taking into account all interested parties, not just industry."

EPA officials also state, "In some reports of accidents involving these type of products, although the directions were read and followed to the letter, mishap due to fire or explosion still occurred. Among those who diligently read the label, such mishaps can be entirely prevented with proper warning.

As with most pesticide mishaps, a large portion occur due to misuse. A substantial reduction of mishaps could, nonetheless, be realized among this group of users. One is less likely to take chances with a product labeled 'EXTREMELY FLAMMABLE' than one which merely cautions against bursting."

In an EPA memo one official states, "Industry, through the CSMA [Chemical Specialties Manufacturers Association], indicated that they would initiate a lawsuit against PR 87-8 [the EPA's recommended labeling requirements] if it were not rescinded."

An internal EPA Office of Pesticide Programs memo states, "Industry does not appear to be concerned as their insurance companies pay all claims."

Aerosol products have become culprits in many incidents of fires and/or explosions that have caused injuries, loss of home and loss of lives. While many in the field believe the labeling on these products should be more accurate in their classifications, the industry has decided their economic losses outweigh consumer losses. Unfortunately the EPA is responding to this pressure rather than alerting the public to potential dangers and how to avoid them. 

Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO's investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

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