Indoor air is three times more polluted than outdoor air and according to the EPA, is considered one of the top 5 hazards to human health. Paints and finishes are among the leading causes.
Environmentally-friendly and recycled paints are readily available for projects of any size, whether a home or office building. These paints are not only better for the environment; savvy builders who use them can potentially earn LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) points
Paints and finishes release low level toxic emissions into the air for years after application. The source of these toxins is a variey of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which, until recently, were essential to the performance of the paint.
New environmental regulations, and consumer demand, have led to the development of low-VOC and zero-VOC paints and finishes. Most paint manufacturers now produce one or more non-VOC variety of paint. These new paints are durable, cost-effective and less harmful to human and environmental health.
Health. Reduced toxins benefit everyone, including those with allergies and chemical sensitivities.
Environment. Reduces landfill, groundwater and ozone depleting contaminants.
Effective. Low-VOC products perform well in terms of coverage, scrubability and hideability (covering flaws on previous coats).Water-Based. Easy cleanup wtih soap and warm water.
Little or No Hazardous Fumes. Low odor during application; no odor once cured. No off-gassing. Painted areas can be occupied sooner, with no odor complaints.
Not Deemed Hazardous Waste. Cleanup and disposal greatly simplified.
Types of Non-Toxic Paints and Finishes
The term “non-toxic” is used here in its broadest sense. With paints and finishes, it’s more a matter of degree. Even Zero-VOC formulations contain some small amounts of toxins. Here are three general categories of non-toxic (or low-toxic) paints: Natural Paints, Zero VOC, and Low VOC
Natural Paints and Finishes – These are paints made from natural raw ingredients such as water, plant oils and resins, plant dyes and essential oils; natural minerals such as clay, chalk and talcum; milk casein, natural latex, bees’ wax, earth and mineral dyes. Water-based natural paints give off almost no smell. The oil-based natural paints usually have a pleasant fragrance of citrus or essential oils. Allergies and sensitivities to these paints is uncommon. These paints are the safest for your health and for the environment.
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 no, or 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 or MSDS. Paints and stains, to meet EPA standards. must not contain VOCs in excess of 200 grams per litre. Varnishes must not contain VOCs in excess of 300 grams per liter. 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. If you are particularly sensitive, make sure the paint you buy contains fewer than 25 grams/liter of VOC’s.
VOC Absorbing Paints
These specialty paints contain an active ingredient that absorbs VOCs like formaldehyde. They remain trapped (cannot be removed) within the product indefinitely. They are:
Atmosphere Purifying Wallpaint (APP) – a matt/flat finish wallpaint designed to absorb from underlying surfaces and also from the atmosphere in the painted room.
MDF Passivating Primer (MDFP) – a base-coat/primer for man-made or remanufactured timer type products (like MDF and ply) which typically off-gas formaldehyde in particular.
Anti-Formaldehyde Radiator (AFR) Paint – new hot water radiators can off-gas formaldehyde for many months (sometimes as long as two years). AFR traps this before it can enter the atmosphere.
MDFP and AFR are remedial solutions for particular situations. APP is very commonly used over existing paints, or in spaces with new carpets or furnishings that are off-gassing. It is frequently applied to a ceiling (being a matt finish it looks like any other wall/ceiling paint) in cases where other items in the room are the cause of the problem.
APP, MDFP and AFR paints are available at ECOS Paints. ECOS Paints ships direct to homes throughout the US and Canada, the UK, France and Germany
Ethylene Glycol – a solvent used in latex paints, is listed as a hazardous substance and a toxic air contaminant under many federal and state regulations. A clear, colorless, odorless liquid, ethylene glycol and its vapor can be toxic to humans. Exposure may cause irritation to the skin, eyes, nose, throat and lungs, and allergic reactions are possible. Overexposure could lead to nausea, vomiting, drowsiness, coma, and respiratory failure. Repeated overexposure can permanently damage the kidneys. Ethylene glycol-free paints are available at Dunn Edwards.
Non-toxic Paint Strippers
Most paint strippers are caustic – they work by melting the paint. The active ingredient, methylene chloride, is a potential carcinogen.
A new generation of biodegradable paint strippers is now entering the market. They are water-soluble, noncaustic and nontoxic – some can even be washed down the drain.
The downside? These new strippers are more expensive than their traditional counterparts, and they take longer to work.
One company that produces Eco friendly paints is the ProNature company, the ProNature range is purely made from plant oils and other natural ingredients. Dangerous solvents have been omitted in favour of essential oils, and crude oil based chemicals have been replaced with plant materials like linseed oil or other sustainable materials like beeswax, milk protein and orange peel oil. These natural paint systems provide easy maintenance surfaces with similar durability as synthetic finishes which are pleasing to the eye, touch, your health and indeed the environment.
Similarly, Sherwin Williams offers solutions for a variety of performance and budget requirements, the company announces an enhanced formulation for Harmony® — one of its most popular green coatings — and has added a complete line of ProMar® 200 Zero VOC paints as well as EcoSelect™, a budget-friendly option for new construction.
Safecoat Naturals products are organic, plant-based finishes that protect and beautify your environment safely, naturally and sustainably. Entirely sourced from natural earth based plant and mineral components, Safecoat Naturals products are the first truly practical architectural coatings incorporating plant-based chemistry. Like the bark on a tree, they create a breathable layer inspired by Mother Nature herself – fully biodegradable, emitting no toxins and containing no harmful solvents, preservatives, dryers or other irritants that can contribute to poor indoor air quality or endanger your health.
Eco friendly paint was introduced in order to combat and reduce the use of paints, that have a toxic nature of components. Though limited shades of these kinds of paints are available in the market, the eco friendly paints are highly durable and also give the house or the surface, a very beautiful get up. With the help of modern technology, eco friendly paints are being developed so as to make them more attractive and convenient for use.
Casey L. Krysiak
Akzo Nobel Paints LLC
B-earth International (Pty) Ltd.
Pro Nature Paints