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Unilever fined $362,500 by ARB for illegal hair products

Hair products like these are subject to strict VOC limits in California.
Hair products like these are subject to strict VOC limits in California.
Frank Maccioli

The California Air Resources Board yesterday announced a settlement with Conopco Inc. to resolve two cases in which the company's hair styling products violated California's air pollution control regulations. The violations resulted in a total fine of $362,000.

Conopco does business as Unilever, which previously bought Alberto-Culver Co., the name under which the two products were sold. The products - Motions Oil Sheen & Conditioning Spray and TreSemme Root Busting Spray - contained volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in concentrations greater than allowed by California's consumer products regulations.

VOCs are of concern because they react with other air pollutants in the presence of sunlight to form smog. Ensuring that those who offer such products for sale comply with the regulations is very important, particularly for residents of areas such as Bakersfield and Kern County, which have some of the worst ambient air in the country.

The products were illegally sold in California for more than a year. As a result, ARB estimated that approximately 17 tons of excess VOCs were emitted. Most of the emissions, about 98 percent, were attributable to the Motions Oil Sheen & Conditioning Spray.

The cases were repeat violations and were discovered by ARB staff after purchasing the products and testing them during routine investigations. The final penalty would have been higher had not Unilever cooperated with the investigation.

“When consumers statewide use products that do not comply with California’s standards, they unknowingly release significant quantities of smog-forming chemicals into the atmosphere,” said ARB Enforcement Chief James Ryden. “These violations by Unilever impact air quality and public health.”