So the biggest conversation concerning paint today is about VOC’s or Volatile Organic Compounds which are compounds that are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids. They occur as a wide variety of chemicals and most have short or long term ‘adverse health effects’. They are typically 2 to 5 times more abundant inside your home vs. outside and they can be found a thousands of everyday items. According to the EPA exposure to VOC’s can cause ‘eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches, loss of coordination, nausea; damage to liver, kidney, and central nervous system. Some organics can cause cancer in animals; some are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans. Key signs or symptoms associated with exposure to VOCs include conjunctival irritation, nose and throat discomfort, headache, allergic skin reaction, dyspnea, declines in serum cholinesterase levels, nausea, emesis, epistaxis, fatigue, dizziness.’
But not all VOC are created equal. You see, VOC regulations for paints, stains, adhesives, caulks, sealants and others, primarily come from the SCAQMD or the South Coast Air Quality Management District. They have set the limits for the amount of VOC’s various products can have. For instance, Flat paint is limited to 50 g/L of VOC’s to be considered a low-VOC product. Now, the important thing to keep in mind, is where these standards came from. SCAQMD set these standards over 30 years ago because, as you may recall, California had huge smog issues. In their research to find the source of these pollutants, it was determined that household products contribute over 40% to the level of smog through the release of VOC’s. This is because VOC’s when released, react with Nitrogen and Sunlight to create low-level ozone (another toxic substance for humans) and low-level ozone is a primary cause of, you guessed it, SMOG.
So, the chemical manufacturers association got together when they were putting these regulations together and convinced SCAQMD that while VOC’s are contributing to Smog, they shouldn’t regulate those VOC’s that don’t. That is, there are VOC’s that don’t react with Nitrogen and Oxygen and therefore don’t contribute to smog formation. These VOC’s are called Exempt Solvents and they are exempt from regulations and exempt from disclosure as well. So this is the first lesson, VOC’s weren’t regulated because of human health concerns from the VOC’s but from the Smog that they contribute to.
These exempt solvents include chemicals such as Acetone, Methylene Chloride and other wonderful chemicals… which are carcinogenic. They are toxic to humans and are not regulated or required to be disclosed all because they don’t react to produce smog. Interesting Huh…
And, if that doesn’t perk your interests, the CMA (Chemical Manufacturer’s Association) even publishes white papers to their manufacturers on how to get around the VOC regulations by using the Exempt Solvents… you can read for yourself here. And you can even note the ‘printed with solvent based ink’ at the bottom of the document just to get a taste of their humor.
Next we will turn to VOC’s in bases, pigments and what you need to know.