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Friday, January 27, 2012

VOCs in Paint: Greenwashing

New baby on the way? Looking to spruce up your home? If you're a holistic-minded parent, you are likely looking out for low- or zero-VOC paint to start your project. But buyer beware: like so many other products in the "natural" marketplace, paint brands have taken to confusing labeling practices to attract the green consumer even when their products don't actually meet the desired goals. So let's talk about greenwashing interior paints.

Volatile Organic Compound (VOCs) are chemical compounds and solvents used in paints, including formaldehyde and benzene. Pigments used to color paints can also contain additional chemicals, such as lead and cadmium. When applied to your walls and left at room temperature, these chemicals "off-gas" and release into your indoor air. VOC exposure can trigger asthma attacks, respiratory issues, eye or skin irritation, dizziness, and nausea, while high levels of exposure may be linked to liver and kidney disease and cancer. VOCs are present in conventional paints at very high rates and may release into the air for more than a year after application.

Changing standards in the industry have created many low- or zero-VOC brands which will provide a less toxic option. However, there is a considerable degree of variation among brands and many confusing labeling practices. Water-based paints will contain fewer VOCs than oil-based paints, but beyond this there are many opinions about what low-VOC actually means. Low odor or low-VOC paints will have lower VOC levels than conventional counterparts, but whether this is assessed from the base or after adding the pigment is tricky. Larger paint brands may label low-VOC paints as such but consumers should ask if these include the addition of pigment.

Zero- or No-VOC paints will contain even fewer VOCs, but there is some question about whether VOC content and VOC emissions are clearly linked. Because VOCs combine with other particles in the air and form different compounds, even zero- or no-VOC paints may release more VOCs into the air than anticipated.

The most natural, least toxic paints you will find are non-toxic or natural paints formulated by a select number of alternative paint companies. These are derived from more natural raw ingredients and will provide the best option for green consumers. Old fashioned milk paints are free of VOCs and are a great option for people with chemical sensitivities, as are the few non-toxic paint brands.

9 comments:

  1. What are these more natural raw ingredients you are referencing?

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  2. These ingredients vary, depending upon the product. Milk paints, for example, use milk proteins (casein) and lime, among other ingredients.

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  3. There are several clay and milk paint brands (you can Google for more information) that are non-toxic. At the HMN Office, we chose Mythic non-toxic paint to use in our office and are very happy with it. Hope that helps!

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  4. i use Mythic in my home. works great!

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  5. What about Muralo Breath Safe zero-VOC's paint?

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  6. Zero-VOC and Low-VOC paints, including those that have the GreenSeal are definitely less toxic than conventional paints. I am not familiar with this particular brand, but you can ask about the VOC levels after pigment is added and compare these with the non-toxic brands to determine what works best for you.

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  7. The Painting our interiors was synonymous with toxic air and home evacuation. I remember all of my painting events very clearly

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  8. When painting, the biggest waste is not the paint, but the logistics of getting the paint to your home, plastic, contractors vehicles etc. For example, getting an almost harmless gallon of paint from hundreds of miles away is not that wise. Getting a standard zero VOC paint from your neighbourhood paint store is more responsible. Also a good quality paint lasts longer and the footprint does not have to repeat each time you paint a surface that does not last. Milk paint may sound good but it will not last and would need to be repainted often. In addition, organic based raw materials are food for mould and mildew.

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