There is a big hoopla right now about low or no VOC. For examples there are a lot of “green” paints that tout their low VOC levels.

But does anyone know what the hell VOC means? Below is a good description of the issue by one of my email list colleagues. Bottom line, the perfectly healthy oil extracted from oranges is a VOC. That fresh smell from pine trees? VOC and harmless. Odorless mineral spirits? No VOC but causes cancer.

So….a paint company can fill their paint with lots of odorless mineral spirits and call it no-VOC….and technically that hippie made hand soap with orange oil would have High levels of VOC…..

My suggestion? Stay away from synthetic paints altogether. AFM Safecoat is maybe the only exception. I prefer clay and milk paint which is even more natural.

Andrew Pace writes:
My point is that VOC does not mean harmful and no VOC does not mean green.
This is a topic I’ve been screaming about to deaf ears for quite a long
time. I’m glad it’s starting to surface again. According to the EPA, a
volatile organic compound is classified as any carbon-based chemical that is
readily vaporized at room temperature, that can react with nitrogen and UV,
thus creating smog. However, when the EPA created the VOC regs, they gave
specific exemption to several chemicals that are still carbon-based, but do
not react to create smog. Ammonia and butyl acetate are two of the more
common ones. Anyway, when paint companies use these and similar chemicals
in their formulas, they can have the VOC test results show that the paint is
Zero VOC less exempt compounds. Otherwise known as, “Calculated VOC”.

The term “odorless paint” actually refers to the process of adding another
set of chemicals to paint to act as masking agents. Some of these
ingredients also act as formaldehyde precursors, which are undetectable in a
liquid state, but actually chemically react to create formaldehyde once the
curing process starts. Keep in mind, odorless mineral spirits is still
mineral spirits! Just because it no longer has the usual solvent smell
doesn¹t mean that its no longer dangerous. But for some reason, we humans
have this innate desire to connect the strength of smell to a danger level
or lack thereof.

Regarding the MSDS… An MSDS only has to list hazardous chemicals that make
up more than 1% of the volume of the entire formula. In essence, a paint
company can put in several formaldehyde precursors, chemical masking agents
and biocides, and not have to list any of them because individually they are
less than 1% of the volume. If an ingredient is part of a “proprietary
blend”, it doesn’t have to be listed either.

For human health concerns, the VOC level of a product is not important. The
TOXICTY of the ingredient, whether its a VOC or not, is important. Oranges
are not regulated, as far as I know. Yet, orange oil is a VOC. Pine trees
are not regulated by the EPA either.

In an effort to sell product, the paint companies are trying to make
everyone think that their zero VOC formulas are safe for humans without
actually coming out and saying it. They use terms like ³green² and
³eco-friendly² etc., and we all read into it too much. If you really want
to use a paint that is truly healthier for the occupants, then look into
products that have been used successfully by the chemically sensitive.
These ³canaries in the mineshaft² have been able to tolerate AFM Safecoat
paint since it came out almost 30 years ago. AFM lists all of their
ingredients on their data sheets. Yes, it has titanium dioxide in it, as
does all white paint. But, so does toothpaste.

I co-authored an article about paint ingredients a couple years ago that
dealt with some of this…here¹s where it is posted
It would be great if more folks would push the green building groups to deal
with the human health aspect of green building….not just the
eco-friendliness of it.