Is Zero VOC the Same as Being Green?
Most people know that Zero VOC products are better for health and indoor air quality.
But is that the same thing as a green product? It's not that simple, unfortunately.
According to the Global Wellness Institute, “wellness architecture” will be one of the biggest and most impactful future wellness initiatives. A panel of experts deemed indoor air pollution one of the deadliest, silent killers, as recent studies show that 14 times as many deaths now result from poor indoor air quality rather than outside pollution.
There's a lot of information out there that can be hard to sift through. In a recent email, Joel Hirshberg, the owner of Green Building Supply, responded to some the common myths about Zero or Low VOC products.
Myth: If it's zero VOC or VOC complaint it must be green. A great deal of emphasis has been placed on the term VOC (volatile organic compound) to the extent that many have begun to believe that all VOCs are 'bad' and should be eliminated.
This is an overstatement. The government is interested in regulating VOCs because some, not all, react with chlorine in the atmosphere to form smog-creating compounds.
Example #1: The US government has exempted acetone and ammonia — two very toxic chemicals — from regulations as VOCs (even though European governments recognize them as VOCs) because they do not contribute to smog formation. These toxic ingredients have found their way into zero VOC formulations of major manufacturers — safe from government regulation — without concern for their effect on users.
Example #2: Consider the difference between ethylene glycol and propylene glycol. The former is essentially anti-freeze and is used in the paint industry to provide freeze-thaw resistance and to provide a 'wet edge'. It is a VOC and is extremely toxic. Propylene glycol, on the other hand, is also a VOC and can be used for the same purposes, but has no indicia of toxicity. There is no skin sensitization hazard, no inhalation hazard and no toxicity hazard.
Paints made with ethylene glycol and those made with propylene glycol both have VOCs yet one is poison and one is benign. Therefore, the term VOC is largely meaningless with regard to product safety.
Popular furniture, paint, sealant and fabric brands contain CO2 and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), both of which are highly toxic and can cause cancer, heart problems and lung disease. Thus, non-toxic building materials and home products are more in demand than ever before.
There are some products with low or Zero VOC content if you read labels carefully. Real Milk Paint Company is one brand that's helping to cure the indoor air pollution crisis. The company offers 55 milk-based colors and finishing products that contain zero VOCs for both indoors and outdoors. They do not emit any fumes during application and drying, making them ideal for household projects in even the smallest rooms.
Read more about indoor air quality.