If you’ve ever known that “new-car smell,” you’ve experienced VOCs. VOC is the acronym for “volatile organic compounds,” which specifiers and contractors seek to minimize in the products they construct with, especially since green building projects are mushrooming and environmental safety awareness is at an all-time high. In a new car, you can get exposed to off-gassing VOCs for up to six months after you buy it. (This is a great selling point for buying pre-certified vehicles). Studies have shown there are more than 60 VOCs detected in the average new car.
VOCs are pervasive in our daily lives. It’s impossible to avoid them. VOCs can come from new carpet, a scented candle, cleaning supplies, paint, or that whiff of gas fumes filling your nose as you’re refueling your hybrid.
VOCs pollute our air and water, so the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stepped in to set limits to the public’s exposure. VOCs can create public health issues ranging from respiratory illness to cancer.
How Do VOCs Impact Project Specifications?
The VOC level in any product determines if you can specify it for your building project. Most VOCs are manufactured chemicals that become a gas at ambient temperature and pressure. They can be dangerous because they can form ground-level ozone when they react with nitrogen oxide under UV radiation. Most VOCs are flammable or combustible and can be a fire risk if they are exposed to an ignition source.
VOCs can also impact your wallet with hefty fines. VOC limits are established at the state, federal, and in some cases, local levels. If a distributor sells a product that exceeds VOC limits, the distributor, the manufacturer, and the end-user can be fined for the infraction.
Can I Avoid VOCs?
Not really. VOC-laden products permeate our daily living. VOCs are found in anything from office products (copiers, printers, correction fluids, and copier paper) to personal care products (perfume, hair and nail care liquids and aerosols) to toys, household products (scented candles, room fragrances, paints, varnishes, waxes, cleaning, disinfecting, degreasing, pesticides) and hobby products (photography developer solutions, artist paints, fixatives, airplane glue).
When you use VOC products indoors, they can remain in the air long after your nose forgets they were ever there. The amount of time VOCs remain in the air depends on the amount you used and how well the air circulates in your room.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) uses a scoring metric called “TEAM,” or Total Exposure Assessment Methodology. Their studies test which pollutants each organic compound creates, and how long those pollutants remain in the air.
What Are the VOC Emissions Standards for Architectural Coatings?
The EPA regulates your architectural coatings. In 1970, The Clean Air Act specified allowable VOC levels for field-applied coatings to stationary structures, pavements, or curbs. You can view the Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) Content Limits for Architectural Coatings here.
VOC regulations impact everything from fire-retardant and high-temperature paints to concrete, floor, and pool coatings, plus off-gassing materials like carpeting.
Companies like W. R. MEADOWS that make industrial products must provide “Safety Data Sheets” so our end-users know each product’s potential hazards. Our team is trained in the VOC laws throughout the United States so that we can tell our customers (architects, specifiers, civil engineers, contractors, building owners, and homeowners) whether we can sell them a specific product. We help our customers verify that the products they specify are VOC-compliant and legal for use in their project’s location.
Are There Low-VOC Building Materials?
Yes. Water-borne coatings ensure you have lower emissions when you apply your product to a surface. We’ve seen a growing demand for low-VOC, water-borne coatings at the distributor level. Our innovation team believes that customer demand will drive us to develop robust, water-borne coating technologies, especially as we see more businesses focusing on sustainability.
Is There a Downside to Low-VOC Building Materials?
In cold-weather regions, there are limitations to using water-based products. The water-borne coating’s post-application durability, stability, and performance can be an issue. Water-based formulations include an emulsion of some sort. These emulsions can separate and break down over time. As more research is done in these areas, we believe we’ll see water-based technology improve.
Why Isn’t There a Uniform VOC Regulation Nationwide?
When the federal government enacts a regulation that covers the entire United States, individual municipalities or states will develop their own more stringent rules to comply with clean air laws. One example of this is the South Coast Air Quality Management District in California. There’s the California Air Resources Board, which regulates the state of California, and the South Coast Air Quality Management District, which regulates the South Coast Basin with regulations more stringent than the state of California’s regulations.
How Do VOC Regulations Impact Building Materials Manufacturers?
At W. R. MEADOWS, our products are formulated to satisfy all the applicable VOC regulations. For example, we customize formulations just for the California market, and we have products specifically formulated for just the South Coast Basin area of California. It’s complicated, but we must design multiple formulations for the same product so that we can sell these products across the board legally, while still providing products for higher VOC-regulated areas.
Your Future with VOCs
Now you know — your cab driver’s heavy cologne, your black-and-white photography hobby, and that vanilla candle in your half-bath are conspiring against your health. The good news is, you can mitigate these potential hazards.
To simplify your life as a distributor, contractor, or specifier, W. R. MEADOWS created this handy VOC COMPLIANCE MAP on our website so you can easily find which products are approved for your project by region, state, or local governing body. To access our time-saving tool, please click here for more information.
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W. R. MEADOWS’ VP Dave Carey gives an in-depth look at VOC rules and regulations. Dave has over 30 years in the industry, and oversees all of the legal requirements facing W. R. MEADOWS. For more information about products and standards, click here: https://www.wrmeadows.com/standards-approvals