Watch Your VOCs
Most paint companies advertise low- or no-VOC paints in their product lines. Many of them have products that comply, as stated on their labels, with the standard acceptable VOC limit of less than 50 grams per liter. However, the label stats refer to the base paints. Once colorants, especially darker more saturated tints, are added at the paint store, the VOC numbers go up – often significantly – and that’s not reflected on the label.
VOCs, volatile organic compounds, are solvents released into the air as the paint dries. They are thought to contribute to the depletion of the ozone layer and may cause health problems (scratchy throats, watery eyes, headaches) especially among the chemically sensitive. Keeping the levels low is important but often difficult. It becomes the responsibility of the specifiers to find out what’s really in their paint choices, but that, too, is often difficult.
It is not easy to get comprehensive VOC information from manufacturers. Even the largest and most responsible of them require multiple calls or web searches to get the figures – and who has time for that?
Benjamin Moore’s Aura line is advertised as low-emitting, and it is, but confirmation of the actual numbers took four clicks from the home page to get to a list of the VOC information for the product. Scrolling down I found that Aura is listed at 48 g/l – that’s good – but found no mention of the effects of colorants. Three more clicks took me to the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) where I learned that Aura’s VOC number is consistent for all colors. Finally! It shouldn’t be that hard.
In 2007 Aura received Greenguard certification, third party validation of low emissions. Armed with that information, the specifier won’t have to dig any further. Even so, I’d like to see Benjamin Moore and other manufacturers make VOC data more accessible. Non-substantiated claims are just not good enough anymore.