INDOOR AIR QUALITY
Paint & Volatile Organic Compounds
The results of two innovative studies of VOC content/emissions conducted by UL show that it is imperative to test for emissions as well as for harmful ingredients. VOC emissions from paint with low VOC content are not uncommon.
Twenty percent of the U.S. population, or nearly 55 million people, spend their days in elementary and secondary schools.1 Studies show that half of the nation’s 115,000 schools have problems linked to indoor air quality. Young students in particular are at greater risk of exposure to indoor air pollutants because of the hours spent in school facilities, their biological susceptibility and the inability to detect airborne hazards.2 Children breathe at a faster rate than adults; this coupled with their smaller body mass results in a higher dose of available pollutants for a child than for an adult.3
Paint products, a common source of volatile organic compounds, are frequently used to refresh school appearance and improve surface durability. The requirements for paint are often based on VOC content limits and do not address the emissions of specific compounds. The VOCs associated with paints and coatings, however, may be by-products of the paint drying process, or they may be low in concentration and not determined by content measurement.4
WHAT DID UL DO?
Conventional wisdom is that “No-VOC” or “VOC-Free” paint has little to no VOC emissions and thus would not contribute to the level of VOCs in indoor air. However, results of two recent innovative studies of VOC content and emissions conducted by UL show that VOC emissions from a paint claiming “No VOCs” are not uncommon.5
First, to better understand the relationship between VOC content and emissions, UL scientists conducted multiple dynamic environmental chamber emissions tests on a series of paint and coating products with a range of stated VOC content levels from 0 to 150 g/L. Products were applied to interior drywall using standard application procedures and placed in environmental chambers, and air emissions were analyzed for VOCs and low-molecular-weight aldehydes.6
Results demonstrated that there was no direct correlation between reported VOC content and VOC emissions into indoor air. It was also demonstrated that a paint product with a reported “No VOC” content, according to outdoor air regulations, can emit VOCs into the indoor air.7
To add a further dimension to our findings, UL scientists in partnership with the Georgia chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council conducted a school demonstration study at a public middle school in Savannah, Georgia, to evaluate the indoor air quality benefits of using a third-party-verified low-VOC-emission interior semigloss paint. Airborne measurements of VOCs were made up to 14 days
after the application of both the traditional paint and the verified low-VOC-emission paint. The low-VOC-emission paint resulted in a 90 percent reduction in total VOCs within 24 hours after application, in comparison to the one industrial paint that had traditionally been used in the school.8 In addition, all the VOCs associated with the low-VOC paint were below detectable levels within seven days, whereas emissions from the traditional paint could still be observed in the air after 14 days.9
Overall, UL’s R&D team was able to demonstrate that low total VOC content is not necessarily indicative of acceptable VOC emissions for specific chemicals with known health impacts. The VOCs associated with paints and coatings can be either ingredients that are added to the paint to formulate and enhance product performance and shelf life, or they can be by-products of the paint application and drying process.10
WHY IT MATTERS
Currently, high-quality, “low-toxicity,” and “low-VOC” paint and coating products with required performance characteristics are available for use in school environments, but they have not been widely adopted. UL’s study proves that these paints minimize indoor air pollution loads and reduce health risks to both students and faculty.
As a result of UL’s innovative research proving the lack of correlation between measured VOC content and emissions, building owners, facility managers and consumers can be aware and take proactive steps to minimize indoor air pollution resulting from the use of wet construction products such as paints, coatings, adhesives and sealants. They can specify and choose paints that have been verified to have low VOC emissions for indoor environment use and avoid claims made for VOC content based on outdoor air regulations. This data also supports the USGBC’s recommended LEED 2012 EQ Credit for Low-Emitting Interiors, which proposes explicit requirements for VOC emissions for wet products including adhesives, sealants, paints and coatings.