The Signal: News and Notes from the Pharos Team

Pharos Unveils New Product Category - Interior Semi-Gloss Paints

Julie Silas May 26th, 2010
Today, we introduce a new product category to the Pharos Project, interior paints (CSI 09 91 23).  Interior paints are ubiquitous in our commercial and residential buildings.  Often the paint product we use at home is the same product used in a medical office building or in our children’s schools.

There are hundreds of paint products on the market today.  In early spring, we sent a request to the leading paint manufacturers, asking them to provide information about their paint products, with a focus on the products that they consider to be the most “green.”  Many of those products you will see displayed in Pharos in the upcoming weeks.

In order to keep the list manageable and provide a consistent comparison across products, we list only the semi-gloss version of each product.  In subsequent blogs, we will discuss some of the toxicity differences associated with sheens and tints, to help specifiers identify potential issues related to the variety of offerings from paint manufacturers.

When you view the products, you will see a range of high and low scores, depending on the impact category.  Some products score high in the VOC (volatile organic compound) impact category, with zero VOC content; while other products scored poorly in Manufacturing Toxicity (MfrTox), because manufacturers chose not to disclose fully the material contents of those materials.

One of the many things we learned undertaking the research for both high performance coatings (HPCs) and interior paints is that there is a wide range of disclosure from paint manufacturers.  Some report a long list of chemicals and materials that are included in a product’s ingredients, while others report merely one or two chemicals/materials, sometimes accounting for only 5-10% of what is actually in the product.  Not only does this remind us how limited Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) can be, but should inspire Pharos Project users to urge manufacturers to disclose fully the chemicals and other ingredients in their products.

We’ve learned several things about interior paints that we will be discussing further in upcoming blog posts:

  • Interior paints avoid some of the most toxic chemicals used in HPCs because interior paints do not require the durability expected of HPCs.  For example, our research and manufacturer disclosure indicate that the endocrine disruptor bisphenol A (BPA) found in many HPCs is not included in interior paints.
  • Added tints and different sheen types sometimes come with additional VOCs or other changes in the toxic content of interior paint products.  Some manufacturers have invested resources in developing zero- or low-VOC tints, which is a welcome innovation.
  • Some manufacturers are adding antimicrobials to paints, with questionable efficacy.  In addition, most paints have biocides added to the can to prevent mold and sour smells before opening.
  • Current certification programs and low VOC regulatory standards for paints – even GreenSeal and SCAQMD – are generally lagging well behind the market today.  Many paint companies have offered low- (<25 g/L) or zero-VOC paint for several years now, while the standards and certifications mostly allow anything under 50 g/L as “low VOC”.  It is time for the standards to catch up to what industry can deliver.
  • There is still much controversy about how to measure short-term VOC emissions from wet applied products.  As a result, interior paints (unlike carpets, resilient flooring and other non-wet interior finish products) are currently evaluated on the actual content of VOCs in the product, rather than their emissions.

There are some strong products on the market that contain zero- or low-VOCs.  However, because of chemical exclusions from VOC measurements and the potential presence of hazardous non-VOCs, full disclosure of material content is required to really understand what products can release into our homes, our offices, our schools, and our hospitals.  Very few of the manufacturers who entered data about their products chose to fully disclose 100% of their contents.  We are confident that engaging in the Pharos Project can transform the market so that paint manufacturers begin to be more forthright in sharing what their products contain.

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