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Green Paint
Whether you care about ozone or your own zone, you've probably heard about volatile organic compounds (VOCs). But to clear the air of any confusion, here are some basic facts.
by Connie Bastyr

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Whether you care about ozone or your own zone, you've probably heard about volatile organic compounds (VOCs). But to clear the air of any confusion, here are some basic facts: Simply, the acronym means:

o Volatile -- A substance that evaporates readily at ambient temperatures. In other words, chemicals permeate your personal airspace and the planet's atmosphere.

o Organic -- A word that seems innocuous, but in this context refers to substances that contain carbon -- including petroleum, formaldehyde and many pesticides.

o Compounds -- This is a more generic way of saying chemicals.

In the greater environment, VOCs form ground-level ozone, a component of smog and contributor to air pollution. On a more personal health level, they are irritants that can cause headaches, nausea, dizziness and eye, nose and throat irritation. In high exposure, VOCs can lead to permanent damage to the kidneys, liver and nervous or respiratory systems.

The good news is that manufacturers, consumers and some lawmakers are choosing greener options. For example, solvent-borne finishes, which have higher levels of VOCs and toxins, are fading from use as some states ban them from certain markets. In response, manufacturers continue to improve the water-base alternatives to mimic the durability and performance of oil-base finishes. Companies are also developing low- or zero-VOC products. Benjamin Moore has a line of Eco Spec primer and finishes; Sherwin Williams offers Harmony interior latex; and Glidden (ICI) carries Lifemaster, its zero-VOC product. A less familiar product line, Safecoat by AFM (http://www.afmsafecoat.com/) offers green finishes for people with especially high sensitivity to chemicals. For purists, perhaps the least toxic paint is milk-base paint, although the premixed versions contain a preservative to extend shelf life.

It's important to note that zero-VOC does not mean toxin-free. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations focus on causes of smog, not on the air quality of your personal space. VOC labels do not evaluate other toxic ingredients such as ammonia, mildewcides and heavy metals. Therefore, paints that qualify as low-VOC may still contain ingredients that are not healthy to inhale. As always, read ingredient labels and follow safety precautions.


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