In 2006 I moved into a home that needed repainting. Since my wife is a "miner's canary," in terms of her sensitivity to all chemical emissions, we went in search of paint that wouldn't leave a strong odor. After some looking, we found an "ecological" paint from a major manufacturer with only 3 grams per liter of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), versus 127 grams per liter for their conventional paint. Thinking that would be just fine, we added the color we wanted and took it home. Guess what? The color added so many volatile solvents that the paint still bothered my wife significantly.
Fortunately there are options for buying low-VOC natural paints. In a city with an ecologically focused home-improvement store, you can get expert consultation on low-VOC paints. One unique approach to paint selection is at the Ecohome Improvement store in Berkeley, California. There, you can sit around a "paint bar" and a knowledgeable "paint-tender" will show you the choices.
Another approach is to choose an entirely new way to make paint. Green Planet Paints is headed by Meredith Aronson, an entrepreneur in southern Arizona with a Ph.D. in chemistry. She is beginning to hit the market with paints made from clay, marble, mineral pigments and a soy-based resin that makes the surfaces washable, all based on ancient Mayan techniques and ingredients. These paints have no VOCs at all. Of her more natural paints, Aronson says, "The environmental footprint of even 'zero-
VOC' paint can include all kinds of synthetic materials to control flow, skinning, settling, etc. that ultimately don't support a vision of sustainabil-ity and goodness for the environment."111
In larger commercial settings, there are of course many options, and the LEED system has very defined rules for limiting VOCs in paints and coatings below threshold levels. These limits, 50 grams per liter for flat and 150 grams per liter for non-flat interior paints, are set by the Green Seal standard, GS-11.111 They are still a far cry, however, from "zero-VOC" paints that must contain no more than 5 grams per liter.
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