Environmentally Friendlier Paints

Sept. 1, 2001
VOC-free formulations for a healthy environment

Our concern for a healthy environment both in our homes and in commercial spaces has become increasingly important. We continue to search for design solutions that will incorporate beauty with the further benefit of safety. Today, manufacturers are searching for new technologies that will protect us from harmful elements that may occur in the construction process.

Historically, all oil-based and water-based (latex) paints required the use of petroleum-based solvents. These solvents produce volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can contribute to the formation of ozone, a pollutant. Even paints with zero VOC content can contain VOCs if tinted with solvent-containing colorants. Solvents thin the paint to the thickness viscosity needed for the application, and then evaporate as the paint dries. However, solvents are a regulatory and environmental concern. As solvents evaporate during the application and drying of the paint, they react with other chemicals to form ozone, a component of smog and air pollution. Additionally, liquid solvents in paints can also be harmful to groundwater if disposed of improperly. Finally, paints containing petroleum solvents can create fumes and result in downtime at the jobsite to allow odors to dissipate.

In order to address these types of issues, ICI Paints became the first manufacturer to formulate a paint that contains no petroleum-based or other organic solvents. Manufacturers' claims of a no-VOC product are substantiated by the Scientific Certification Systems (SCS), an independent organization. SCS conducts analyses to verify the accuracy of environmental claims on products, using a test procedure that can accurately detect even small amounts of solvents in architectural coatings. Essentially, it is a process where the paint is injected into a chamber and carefully calibrated instruments read the content of paint for volatile organic compounds. SCS awards a green cross to indicate that the paint contains no smog-producing ingredients or VOCs.

If a paint company claims "No VOCs," then its test method must be able to detect down to zero grams/liter with a margin of error not to exceed 2.5 grams/liter. It is important to note that even though a coating says no or low VOCs, this usually means it is tested without colorants. The Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for a particular paint company's colorants will indicate the increased VOCs associated with a particular colorant.

Paints without VOCs are ideal for interior use in commercial, institutional, and residential buildings. Because the paint has virtually no odor or solvents, it is most appropriate for indoor use, and will not result in the adverse reaction by employees, customers, and patients that are sometimes associated with solvent-based paints. Therefore, a room may be painted in the morning and put back in use almost immediately. There is little or no functional loss of important facilities.

To summarize, important technological progress has been made to the natural and synthetic chemicals that make up "no VOC" paint, resulting in improved environmental characteristics. These "no- VOC" products offer significant benefits to the consumer, as well as protecting the quality of our environment. Lori McWain is strategic account manager, and Dennis Gough is specification consultant, at Cleveland-based ICI Dulux Paints, North America (http://www.iciduluxpaints.com) or call (800) 984-5444.

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