As a decorating choice, paints and coatings remain as popular as ever, with specifiers and consumers also showing strong interest in using green products.
An important consideration when selecting green products - and a point of some confusion in the marketplace - is what criteria to use to evaluate which paints do the best job of minimizing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in indoor air.
Historically, the focus has been on the contribution of VOCs to outdoor air pollution, in particular ozone and smog formation. To reduce the impact of paint and coating VOCs on the outdoor environment, federal and state regulations set limits in terms of VOC content, usually expressed as grams per liter minus water. As a result, paint and coating manufacturers have complied with these regulations by reducing the amount of VOC content in their products.
However, relying strictly on content verification can be misleading, since it does not give a clear picture of how much of a particular VOC or the total amount of VOCs from paint may be getting into indoor air. Nor does it give an accurate picture of how the VOC emissions from a product will affect the total VOCs in the area where paint is being applied.
For example, results of air sampling studies have shown when paint is drying, indoor VOC levels can be 1,000 times higher than in outdoor air. Some VOCs can cross contaminate other indoor materials and then continue to outgas for an extended time.
Limiting exposure to VOC emissions is important in protecting public health. VOC exposure has been linked to respiratory illnesses, such as allergies and asthma, memory impairment, headaches, reproductive and developmental problems, sensory irritation, immunosuppression and cancer. Keep in mind that health impact may be dependent on specific VOCs, levels of VOCs and potential mixtures of VOCs.
Another point of confusion is paint and coating products marketed as having low or no VOCs can still emit significant amounts of VOCs into the indoor air. The results of a comparative study of VOC content/emissions, conducted by Air Quality Sciences , illustrates this important point ( see table ) and underscores that the only accurate way to ensure a healthy indoor environment is to measure VOC emissions from the products themselves.
In recognition of the health risks associated with VOC emissions, the Collaborative for High Performance Schools green construction program defines acceptable indoor air quality performance based on a product's emissions levels. In addition, US Green Building Council's LEED for Schools has strengthened its criteria to encourage the use of low-emitting products, including paints and coatings.
To meet regulatory and market demands and to reduce product liability risks, paint and coating manufacturers will increasingly need to demonstrate their technology leadership by testing and monitoring VOC emissions to ensure their products emit low levels of VOCs and potentially reformulate those products that do not comply with emission limits.
The most reliable and scientifically proven way to test for VOC emissions is by using environmental chamber technology. This method allows a product to produce emissions similar to the way the product would perform in a home, office or school. The collected data is then mathematically modeled to determine exposure concentrations produced by product application in many different indoor environments.
Those who embrace a strategy of VOC emissions testing, along with responsibly using products that are certified as low emitting (not just low VOC content), will realize major benefits, including:
As the pioneer of environmental chamber technology and key partner in the development of ASTM testing protocols for product emissions using ECT, AQS is ready to partner with the paints and coating industry to create and maintain healthy indoor environments by offering the most complete and most sensitive testing of paint and coating products. AQS also employs experts who can help manufacturers modify their product formulations to be the best performers and the best at protecting the indoor environment and building occupants. AQS provides testing and analysis for the Greenguard Certification program and for California's 01350 and CHPS requirements.
For more information, call AQS at 770.933.0638 and ask for Product Evaluations to order the analysis or visit www.aerias.org .
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