State air-quality enforcers target Ace Hardware

SACRAMENTO — The Air Resources Board has fined Ace Hardware $850,000 for selling windshield wiper fluid throughout the state that failed to meet California air-quality standards. The action marks the ARB’s largest consumer product settlement.

The ARB said the windshield fluid was specially formulated with higher pollutants to prevent it from freezing in the state’s colder, mountainous areas. According to the ARB, from 2003 to 2007 Ace Hardware sold nearly 25,000 1-gallon containers of washer fluid with higher volatile organic compound content in areas throughout the state where it was not allowed, resulting in more than 20 tons of excess emissions.

Volatile organic compounds, or “VOCs,” react with other pollutants and sunlight in the atmosphere to form ground-level ozone and particulate matter, the main ingredients in smog. Both pollutants can exacerbate asthma as well as respiratory and cardiovascular ailments.

“By selling cold-weather wiper fluid in all areas of the state, Ace Hardware needlessly sent 20 tons of smog- and soot-forming emissions into our imperiled skies. This sizable settlement underscores our commitment to pursuing offenders who don’t follow through and correct problems,” said ARB Chairwoman Mary Nichols.

Ace Hardware was cited previously by ARB in 2005 for selling the wiper fluid, resulting in a $40,000 settlement.

The ARB’s Consumer Products Regulation specifies different VOC limits for automotive windshield wiper fluid in California, depending on the climate of the region. The limit is 35 percent VOC by weight for mountainous areas that are subject to low freezing temperatures, and 1 percent VOC for everywhere else in the state. The higher limit is permitted in the coldest areas of the state because more VOCs are needed to keep the fluid from freezing.

Windshield wiper fluid is the only consumer product in California that has two permissible VOC limits; all other consumer products have only one limit they must meet to be sold throughout the state.

All settlement monies are paid to the California Air Pollution Control Fund, which was established to mitigate various sources of pollution through education and the advancement and use of cleaner technology.

The Air Resources Board is a department of the California Environmental Protection Agency. ARB’s mission is to promote and protect public health, welfare and ecological resources through effective reduction of air pollutants while recognizing and considering effects on the economy. The ARB oversees all air-pollution control efforts in California to attain and maintain health-based air quality standards.

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