FMA Meeting with CARB on Air Fresheners

On April 28, 2008, FMA representatives and industry volunteers met with both policy and enforcement staff at the California Air Resources Board (CARB) regarding the use of solvents in air fresheners, primarily reed diffusers. CARB has indicated that in testing reed diffuser products they have determined that the solvent (DPGME) in the fragrance in some instances exceeds 90% and therefore is in violation of the VOC limit of 18%.

CARB enforcement staff have also indicated they believe the solvent is a functional ingredient of the reed diffuser and not the fragrance. The purpose of the meeting with CARB was to discuss the various forms of air fresheners and the need for the functional components in the fragrances which go into the various air fresheners. FMA also provided charts to demonstrate how the fragrance diffuses throughout the life of the products both with and without functional components.

At the completion of FMA's presentation, CARB explained the reason for the enforcement action: the fragrance formulator/manufacturer provides a reed diffuser manufacturer what is essentially a finished product. In CARB's view, that is different from a plug-in because the finished product manufacturer has to actually add something to the other components to make the finished product, i.e. the gel which carries the fragrance. So the CARB staff is taking a very simplistic view of the fragrance definition and is of the opinion that there is some collusion among fragrance manufacturers and reed diffuser manufacturers because the solubilizers (solvents) are in the product at very high levels and, in all likelihood, finished product manufacturers asked the fragrance suppliers to add the solubilizers in order to further the life of the finished product. It was also apparent that the CARB staff understands that more and more of these products are on the market now and that they need to be concerned about them in terms of the VOC levels.

Thus far, CARB enforcement staff have tested 198 air freshener products. Of that total, 151 are reed diffusers and 130 of those exceeded the VOC limit. Twenty-five room sprays or aerosols were also tested and roughly 18 of those exceeded the VOC limit. CARB also noted that a number of finished products are on the shelves with no date code (a violation) and, in their view, that is a clear indication that companies are not familiar with CARB regulations. So those products, along with many others, have been taken off retail shelves for compliance testing. Of the total results on reed diffusers (151 sample results) only 13.9% were found to be at or below the 18% VOC limit; 50.3% were found to have a VOC level of greater than 90%. 

The FMA tried to impress upon CARB that the fragrance manufacturers are only selling the fragrance NOT the gel. Fragrance manufacturers also do not provide the reeds for the diffusers. Unfortunately, CARB contends that the gel is different from the reeds in that it is some sort of VOC and the reeds are not. Therefore, the reed diffusers are in violation of the regulations because the solvent/solubilizer contained in the finished fragrance exceeds the VOC limit. FMA staff made the point that the fragrance manufacturers do not and cannot put finished products on the market.

FMA was asked if it could provide CARB with a list of the solubilizers and their VOC limits and FMA indicated it would discuss this with members and get back to them. However, the FMA is concerned that the enforcement staff would use the list to look for those solubilizers in other air freshener products.

In summation, it is clear that CARB is very serious about these matters and is likely to come down hard on companies that have violated the regulations. At this point, the FMA is not recommending reformulations. FMA continues to assert that 100% fragrance products can and must contain functional fragrance ingredients such as DPGME and that CARB regulations do not specify a maximum use level for such solvents. CARB staff indicated that they were going to have further internal discussions and the FMA should be prepared to answer questions and/or return to California for further discussions with CARB.

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