Release 08-97
October 27, 2008

    Karen Caesar
(626) 575-6728


Sears pays $600,000 for air quality violations
Retail giant sold illegal fuel containers and polluting wiper fluid

SACRAMENTO - The Air Resources Board last month fined Sears Holdings Corporation $600,000 for selling portable fuel containers and windshield washer fluid throughout the state that failed to meet California air emissions requirements.

In October 2007, ARB found that Sears sold more than 650 proscribed Blitz and Midwest brand portable fuel containers at Kmart and Sears stores across the state and to California customers directly via its website. These containers do not meet stringent state standards and can pose a health threat due to spills and leaks that can allow fumes and chemicals to escape. The ARB has twice previously issued notices of violation to Sears for selling these same illegal products.

ARB also cited the commercial chain for selling windshield washer fluid throughout California that was specially formulated with more polluting chemicals to prevent freezing in the state's colder, mountainous areas. Sears sold about 18,000 gallons of illegal washer fluid from 2004 – 2007, resulting in excess VOC (volatile organic compound) emissions. These 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 respiratory and cardiovascular ailments.

“California has one of the country’s most aggressive consumer protection programs to prevent exposure to harmful emissions,” said ARB Chairman Mary D. Nichols. “Enforcement of the strict regulations we already have in place is mandatory if we are going to improve our air quality and safeguard human health.”

The goal of the state’s portable fuel container regulation is to ensure that spillage and evaporative emissions are minimized or eliminated. These cans and containers are used to fill a variety of equipment ranging from lawnmowers to personal watercraft. Because of their large numbers, these containers have the potential to create substantial hydrocarbon emissions that contribute to smog and poor respiratory health. As of July 1, 2007, all portable fuel containers sold in California must be certified by the ARB as meeting low emission standards and regulatory requirements.

The ARB's consumer products program works to reduce the amount of VOCs emitted from the use of chemically formulated consumer products in homes and institutions. This vast product category includes detergents, cosmetics, disinfectants, automotive specialty items, as well as lawn and garden products.

The ARB's consumer products regulation specifies different VOC limits for automotive windshield washer 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 one 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 washer 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 will be 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. Sears also agreed to no longer sell, supply, or manufacture for sale in California any of these items that do not meet state regulations.

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.