July 15, 2024

Car care products are a major source of pollution

Car care products are a major source of pollution

Emissions of volatile organic compounds

Robert Klatt

Car windshield washer fluid

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Car care products are a surprisingly large source of car-related pollutants. Ethanol, and methanol in particular, is released into the environment in large amounts.


York (England). When it comes to environmental and climate protection measures in road traffic, the focus is on carbon dioxide and particulate matter emissions from vehicles. Also, an important component of pollutant emissions are volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are a group of carbon-containing molecules that readily evaporate and contribute to ozone formation. FOVs come in part from automobile exhaust gases.


However, the United Kingdom (UK) National Inventory of Manufacturers Statistics indicates that car care products may be a greater source of VOCs than exhaust fumes. However, these assumptions have not been investigated experimentally.


Emissions from car care products

So scientists from the University of York examined the amounts of vaporized components in windshield washer fluid on a real road. According to what was published in the specialized magazine Environmental science and technology The delivery truck is equipped with several measuring instruments, including a mass spectrometer.

The researchers stopped the car near a busy road. By comparing the truck’s measurements to those taken at a university site with minimal traffic disturbance, they averaged the amount of vapor emitted per car per kilometer driven for several key volatile organic compounds.

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High emissions also with electric cars

Measured values ​​correspond to stock estimates for aromatic compounds, which are usually monitored and regulated. However, values ​​for alcohols, which are important components of windshield washer fluid, far exceeded stock figures. In fact, the release of two alcohols, ethanol and methanol, was twice the amount of all VOCs emitted in exhaust gases.

The discrepancy in alcohol emissions may be explained by the inclusion of solvents from car care products in inventory estimates. This indicates that these products are an important, albeit unexpected, source of vehicular-borne pollutants. The researchers note that this finding may have implications for future regulatory policies, particularly as we move to electric vehicles, which may have lower fuel emissions but still require a clean windshield.

Environmental Science and Technology, doi: 10.1021/acs.est.3c00845