Exploring California’s Air Quality Standards

If you’ve spent time toggling through search options on Material Bank, you may have found a tag called “CDPH/CHPS 01350 compliant” and another labeled “CARB compliant” under the Certificates and Standards filter. CDPH/CHPS 01350 and CARB are home-grown California standards and standards-setters for air quality. They are very important for ensuring that indoor air is safe from both outdoor pollutants and VOCs released from materials used indoors – in fact, beyond federal benchmarks, the California standards are the air quality measures adhered to by manufacturers across the country and even internationally. But there are no Indiana policies posted on the Material Bank page, no New Jersey standards, and nothing from Arizona either. Yet over 5,000 products on Material Bank are listed as CDPH/CHPS 01350 compliant, more than any other certification or standard listed. So why do we care so much about California’s rules? The information that follows will demystify these terms and provide some context to help designers find healthier materials.

Why California?

California has some of the most progressive and ambitious environmental policies in the United States, and has long advocated for stronger internal regulations than those mandated by the federal government. One of the most prominent was the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB32), the country’s largest cap-and-trade system at the time, which mandated an absolute statewide limit on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions with the goal of reverting back to 1990 GHG levels by 2020. In 2016 the state passed SB32, which raised the bar by reducing GHG emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.

California is also the most populated state in the country. If it were an independent nation, it would be the world’s fifth largest economy. Its median household income is over $10,000 more than that of the country as a whole. It’s home to Silicon Valley, Hollywood, an agricultural industry that supplies over half of the country’s fruits, vegetables, and nuts, and important finance and trade hubs. It is also a state that has already seen many of the effects of climate change, including devastating fires, extreme droughts, and intense heat waves.

Because California’s market is vital to many manufacturers, they have to make products that comply with the stricter local regulations. Rather than manufacture one version of a product for Californians and another for the rest of the country, they make a single product that everyone can buy. And that’s how California’s rules become the country’s rules.

A brief history of California’s air quality and CARB

In the sweltering summer of 1943, Los Angeles residents could only see up to three blocks away. This was the first registered occurrence of smog in the city. It made people feel nauseous and their eyes and lungs burned. But it wouldn’t be linked to cars for another decade (at the time, authorities believed the source was a nearby butadiene plant). Once this discovery was made, by Caltech chemist Dr. Aerie Haagen-Smit, California began to take action to improve its air quality. The California Department of Public Health formed a Bureau of Air Sanitation, established air quality standards, and in 1966 set the nation’s first tailpipe emissions standards.

In 1967 the Bureau of Air Sanitation and the Motor Vehicle Pollution Control Board merged to establish the California Air Resources Board (CARB), whose role was to protect the public from exposure to air pollution. And three years later, the federal Clean Air Act authorized California to set more stringent air quality regulations because of its unique climate, geography, and expanding population.

Over the years, CARB instated standards for cleaner gasoline and diesel and now oversees the cap-and-trade program established under AB32. In addition to outdoor air pollution, it also works to reduce and regulate indoor air pollution and the toxic emissions released from thousands of common household products. One such contaminant is formaldehyde, which is found in many composite wood products. Composite wood products labeled as “CARB Phase II compliant” or the equivalent “Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Title VI Compliant” have been inspected and tested for quality at manufacturing locations to verify that formaldehyde levels meet approved standards. For more information on CARB, see Knowledge Bank’s glossary definition here.

CDPH/CHPS and Section 01350

California Department of Public Health (CDPH) / Certified in Healthcare Privacy and Security (CHPS) Section 01350 is a standard that addresses the environmental and health impacts of building materials and interior products. It’s the most widely used standard in North America for testing, evaluating, and limiting emissions from volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) in indoor air. A variety of building materials and products can release VOC emissions, from flooring, paints and finishes, sealants, adhesives, wall panels and coverings, insulation, and furniture. A key part of Section 01350 includes product selection guidelines and emission-testing protocols – it also includes specific criteria for schools and offices.

According to the California EPA, Section 01350 is widely used by building materials manufacturers because of its “flexibility, relative low cost, and because it is the only health-based building material specification… [It] covers environmental and public health considerations for building projects.” It includes guidelines for energy, materials, water efficiency, indoor air quality, nontoxic performance standards for cleaning and maintenance products, and sustainable site planning and landscape considerations. Section 01350 has become popular in the materials market because of recent attention given to VOCs. It has been referenced by many green building rating systems, standards, and codes, including LEED v.4, WELL, CalGreen, ASHRAE 189.1, and others. Compliance with Section 01350 can also be used to endorse products for other certifications. See Knowledge Bank’s glossary definition of CDPH/CHPS 01350 for more information about this standard.


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