Choosing Interior Paints Low in VOCs

The Environmental Protection Agency has warned that chemical vapors released from polyurea and many other household products “may have short- and long-term adverse health effects.” According to the EPA, exposure to these gases, known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), may cause eye, nose and throat irritation; headaches and nausea. Studies suggest that long term exposure may result in liver, kidney, or central nervous system damage. VOCs can come from thousands of household products, including cleaning supplies, craft materials, glue, permanent markers.

No one is sure what level of VOCs is safe. For paints, the government has capped VOC levels at 250 grams per liter for flat finish paints and 380 grams for other finishes. Some agencies are setting much lower levels as their standards. In light of the possible risks, it seems prudent, especially for those with asthma or allergies or other risk factors, to keep exposure to VOCs to a minimum whenever possible.

VOCs are released during application of paints and for years afterward from the paint on walls and ceilings. VOCs have been found indoors in concentrations up to ten times higher than outdoors. Many people, concerned about exposure to VOCs, have turned to products with lower VOC levels. Fortunately a great number of low-VOC and zero-VOC paints are available from most leading paint companies. Using these paints not only reduces health risks, but also decreases unpleasant odors and air pollution. Fortunately the cost of these environmentally friendly paints is usually comparable to traditional paints.

One way to check for paints that are low in VOCs is to look for the Green Seal. Green Seal, an independent, science-based environmental certification agency, certifies products which it has tested and found to be eco-friendly. The 2010 Green Seal standards for paint include the requirement that it contains less than 50 grams of VOC per liter for flat finishes and less than 100 grams for primers and non-flat finishes before colorants are added. Colorants are added after VOCs are measured and may add as much as 50 grams per liter, although usually much less. Paints in these ranges are referred to as Low-VOC. The Green Seal further indicates that the paint does not contain a number of other toxic chemicals. Some paints, which also may have the Green Seal, contain less than 5 grams per liter and are known as Zero-VOC. Natural paints, a third category, contain no VOCs.

Another certification program is overseen by Greenguard Environmental Institute, an industry independent testing organization. Their Greenguard certification indicates that paints have met their stringent standards for VOC emissions.

Below is a sample of some of the more popular paint manufacturers and their eco-friendly paints. There are many other excellent low and zero VOC paints on the market. Check the paint can label to find its VOC levels.

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *