VOCs

Recently, I read that: “The VOC ratings for paint were created to address ozone depletion and smog; VOCs that affect health, but not the atmosphere, are EXEMPT from the calculation.” Is this true? Or are low-VOC paints healthier for my workers?


Q. Recently, I read that: “The VOC ratings for paint were created to address ozone depletion and smog; VOCs that affect health, but not the atmosphere, are EXEMPT from the calculation.” Is this true? Or are low-VOC paints healthier for my workers?—K.H.
 

A. Very good question, in that many people misunderstand VOC and HAP compliancy. To better understand and answer your question, we must explain this further. VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, are any organic compound that participates in a photochemical reaction while evaporating into the air. Any compound (unless classified as exempt by the EPA), that evaporates into the air, is technically a VOC. Acetone and methyl acetate, for example, are very common solvents used in coating materials and are classified as exempt. 
If you go on the EPA website, you can search for the summary of the Clean Air Act 42 U.S.C.§7401 et seq. (1970) which states that one of the goals of this act was to protect public health and public welfare and to regulate emissions of HAPs, or hazardous air pollutants. Some VOCs that affect health but not the atmosphere are exempt, so do not confuse this with being healthier for your workers. 

These types of solvents are designed to lower VOCs, but if a worker experiences burning eyes, has difficulty breathing, or breaks out into a rash, then this particular product is not healthier for your workers. 

There are a lot of buzzwords thrown around these days, such as “green” or “environmentally friendly” that can lull people into a belief that these types of paints are better for the environment and health. The truth is that even plain water can contain a certain amount of VOC, as noted by the EPA. While we do drink tap water, we would never drink paint. The best solution is to coexist with our paint room environment by incorporating the proper personal protection equipment for your workers, and minimally using what you need for your operation.

 

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