California fines Ace $850,000 over air quality violations

Ace Hardware has been fined $850,000 by the Air Resources Board (ARB) of California for selling windshield washer fluid that failed to meet California air emissions requirements.

This represents California's largest-ever consumer products settlement, ARB spokeswoman Karen Caesar said.

From 2003 to 2007, Ace sold nearly 25,000 one-gallon containers of washer fluid with higher volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in areas where it was not allowed, resulting in more than 20 tons of excess emissions, the ARB confirmed.

The windshield fluid was specially formulated with higher pollutants to prevent from freezing in the state's colder, mountainous areas.

“Windshield washer fluid is the only consumer product in California that has two permissible VOC limits, depending on the location,” Caesar said. “In the colder areas, they need (the higher VOC content) to keep from freezing.”

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 aggravate asthma and other respiratory and cardiovascular conditions.

“We have a very active enforcement division and a fairly aggressive consumer products division,” Caesar said.

Ace was cited for similar violations in California in 2005, resulting in a $40,000 fine, the ARB said.

Ace issued a statement, saying, “Ace Hardware has long had in place a restriction in its computerized ordering system that is designed to prevent Ace retailers in certain California counties from purchasing windshield wiper fluid that contains volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in excess of California-mandated VOC thresholds for those counties. Unfortunately, an error in this system enabled a relatively small number of Ace retailers in these California counties to inadvertently purchase these products from Ace.”

Ace spokesman Christopher Boniface told HCN: “As soon as Ace was made aware of the situation, we promptly began to work with all affected Ace retailers in certain California counties to pull these products from the store shelves.”

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