As a regular columnist for Green Building Product Dealer magazine, I receive hundreds of emails every month asking for my opinion on various green building subjects. While I try to be neutral and give answers that are not too much of a free advertisement for a specific manufacturer, once in a while, its just unavoidable. Considering the amount misinformation being spewed across the internet these days, I thought it was a good time for throwing my 2 cents worth into the cloud to see what comes back. Please enjoy this exchange with a reader in Illinois…
Q: Andy, I’ve been in the market for healthier interior paint and have received differing opinions on what I should be looking for. Do these “certifications” I see on some of the cans tell me anything? Who or what can I trust?
A: While this answer might get a little technical for some folks, I’ll guarantee that it WILL get opinionated. But, ask and you shall receive.
Those of you who have read my columns over the years are probably well aware of my skepticism over any of the “gatekeepers” of our industry, whether the LEED programs, NAHB’s checklist or, most notably, third-party product certifiers. While many of these were started with noble intentions of reducing emissions and improving the outdoor air, I believe they are failing miserably when it comes to protecting the health of the human occupants.
Let me give you a prime example: the VOC regulations. I wont bore you with the all the details (email me if you want the whole enchilada), but here’s the synopsis… VOC’s are regulated by the EPA solely because of their propensity to react with nitrogen and UV to create low level smog. It is the EPA’s goal to improve the environment…the OUTDOOR environment. The EPA is not the Human protection agency. If they were looking out for us lowly humans, they would have addressed things like formaldehyde years ago. (Note to self: don’t ask for more regulations, as it usually only makes things worse…like the VOC issue.) Now that manufacturers are being forced to reduce the amount of VOC’s in their paints, they are free to use hundreds of other chemicals that may (or may not) be hazardous to us humans…just as long as they don’t pollute the outdoor environment. Does this make sense to you? Me neither.
Enter the gatekeepers, who facilitate this approach. USGBC’s LEED program uses VOC content as its primary metric for whether or not a product can be used. All of the third-party certifiers (Green Seal, Greenguard and Scientific Certification Systems) have created testing protocols (along with some pretty hefty fees) for determining whether or not a product is worthy of use, which again focus extensively on VOC’s.
Worse, many paint companies, in an effort to jump on the green bandwagon, have started to self-certify their products. This means that they belong to a trade association with other paint manufacturers who have decided to write their own rules, just so they can put a 'Green Certification' on their cans. Works great for people who actually believe just about everything they read. In my opinion, third party certification of a paint product, particularly by an industry created certifier, proves absolutely NOTHING when it comes to human health.
I’ve come under some fire from readers who feel that I have “interests” in recommending products that I write about. I’ll make no bones about it…. I’m a fan of AFM Safecoat. Heck, I even sell their products in my stores. Why, you ask? I didn’t make that decision because some of some third party or industry certifier. I sell AFM because my customers like their products…pretty simple. Beyond that, they are not a bandwagon rider who just decided to put some eco-verbiage on the label to attract the un-educated. AFM literally has a 30-year history of successful use with folks with allergies, asthma, chemical injury, autism, depressed immune systems, etc. Most importantly, AFM is the only paint company that hasn’t sold out their ethics just to make a buck. And in this economy, that says a lot. AFM doesn’t spend millions of dollars on celebrity endorsers or other hollow endeavors. They’d rather focus their attention on the formulations and the folks who need them.
A representative from just about every brand of so-called environmental paint has walked through my front door, looking for my endorsement and my business. I evaluated every one of them and based my decision upon what I believe is best for my customers. If that makes me biased, good. I’m proud of it.