Technical Information

GOING GREEN-WHY LOW-VOC PAINTS Matter

‘GOING GREEN’ - WHY LOW-VOC PAINTS Matter
Painting is the easiest and least expensive form of home improvement. It is used to change the look of home exteriors, interiors, furniture, fixtures, and automobiles – and until today, remains one of the primary means of expression in art. Despite its many applications, many do not realize that certain types of paint may contain hazardous ingredients that are potentially harmful to humans, animals, ground water, and the environment. In fact, the United States Environmental Practice Agency has placed paint on its top-five list of environmental hazards.
As experts in the field, architects, designers, and consultants have a responsibility to be educated on the environmental impact of paints in aiding their customers to make better informed decisions when choosing ‘green’ paints. Some issues to consider:
What is Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)?
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) refer to organic chemical compounds which have significant vapor pressures. Although most VOCs stem naturally from plants, a major source of man-made VOCs is solvents, especially in paints and protective coatings. These petroleum-based solvents are required to spread a protective or decorative film. Typical solvents are aliphatic hydrocarbons, ethyl acetate, glycol ethers, and acetone. Motivated by cost, environmental concerns, and regulation, the paint and coating industries are increasingly shifting toward aqueous solvents.
VOCs’ environmental impact: good ozone vs. bad ozone
When evaporating, the solvents contained in paint emit VOCs into the atmosphere. VOCs react with oxygen in the presence of sunlight to form ozone – "bad" ozone.
 
"Good" ozone occurs naturally in the stratosphere about 10-35 kilometres above the ground, which protects the surface of the earth from harmful ultraviolet rays and acts to protect plants, animals and humans from its various harmful effects.
"Bad" ozone occurs at ground level, forms through the chemical reaction between VOCs, oxygen and sunlight, and is an irritant for the mucous membranes. It can also cause nose, eye, and throat irritations; and can lead to shortness of breath, coughing, and asthmatic symptoms.
This "bad" lower-atmosphere ozone can also damage vegetation – plants, trees, bushes – and such impacts negatively on those dependent on nature for their livelihood. This ozone also has a corrosive effect on certain man-made materials: for example, it accelerates the deterioration and fading of certain paints.
A further major consequence of VOC emissions is global warming – VOCs play a significant role with respect to the creation of the greenhouse effect. Further, some chemically very stable VOCs participate in the destruction of the stratospheric ozone layer (the "good ozone"): this is the famous hole in the ozone layer.
Go Green, choose Low-VOC products
Low VOC paints, stains and varnishes use water as a carrier instead of petroleum-based solvents. As such, the levels of harmful emissions are lower than solvent-borne surface coatings. These certified coatings also contain very low levels of heavy metals and formaldehyde. The amount of VOC's varies among different "low-VOC" products, and is listed on the paint can.
To meet EPA standards, paint must not contain VOCs in excess of 200 grams per litre. As a general rule, low VOC paints marketed by reputable paint manufacturers usually meet the 50 g/L VOC threshold. Paints with the Green Seal Standard (GS-11) mark are certified lower than 50 g/L (for flat sheen) or 150 g/L (for non-flat sheen). Low VOC paints will still emit an odor until dry. For those who are more sensitive to paint fumes, ensure that the paint purchased contains fewer than 25 grams/liter of VOC's.
It is estimated that each year in Australia more than 80,000 tonnes of VOCs are released into the atmosphere, with the paint industry contributing significantly to this amount. Emission profiles from the EPA in California show that surface coatings are responsible for 9% of all VOC emissions. Approximately 12 billion liters of paints are produced annually.
As responsible citizens, every stakeholder plays a role in the environmental sustainability of our planet. A good first step to going green would be to consider low VOC paint. For more information, contact ICI Dulux at 03-6799 4200 or your nearest paint reseller.
Sources:

  1. Paint Quality Institute, “Low VOC”,
    http://www.paintquality.com/going-green/paint-types/low-voc.html
  2. Eartheasy: Solutions for sustainable living, “Non-Toxic Paints”, http://eartheasy.com/live_nontoxic_paints.htm
  3. Infolink, Australia's Architecture, Construction and Design Directory, Paint industry impacts environment: Greenpainters Association”,
    http://www.infolink.com.au/c/Greenpainters-Association/Paint-industry-impacts-environment-Greenpainters-Association-n747418
  4. Wikipedia, “Volatile Organic Compound”,
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volatile_organic_compound