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Think Twice Before Painting

A part of the environmental debate that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention made the pages of the March 2009 issue of Consumer Reports and it’s sure to raise some eyebrows. The offender? Interior paint.

A moment of pause should occur before you decide you head to the store and start thinking about changing the color of their dwelling’s walls. According to, “indoor air is three times more polluted than outdoor air, and according to the [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)], is considered to be one of the top-five hazards to human health. Paints and finishes are among the leading causes.”

The offending toxin in paints are called Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), organic chemical compounds that have high enough vapor pressures under normal conditions to significantly vaporize and enter the atmosphere. The EPA lists possible symptoms as eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches, loss of coordination, nausea; damage to liver, kidney, and central nervous system.

According to the Consumer Reports article, federal VOC limits are now set at 250 grams per liter (g/l) for flat paints and 380 g/l for others. California, with its uber-green focus, has stricter standards: 150 g/l for nonflat finishes and 100 g/l for others. Around Los Angeles, California’s South Coast Air Quality Management district is even tougher with a 50 g/l level for all finishes.

How do you check on a paint before starting that project? Look for one of three “green-certification labels” that might aid your search:

  • Green Seal: Founded in 1989, Green Seal provides science-based environmental certification standards that are credible, transparent, and essential in an increasingly educated and competitive marketplace. Its industry knowledge and standards help manufacturers, purchasers, and end users alike make responsible choices that positively impact business behavior and improve quality of life. The organization is based in Washington, D.C.
  • GreenGuard: As an ANSI Authorized Standards Developer, GreenGuard Environmental Institute (GEI) establishes acceptable indoor air standards for indoor products, environments, and buildings. GEI’s mission is to improve public health and quality of life through programs that improve indoor air. An advisory board consisting of independent volunteers, who are renowned experts in the areas of indoor air quality, public and environmental health, building design and construction, and public policy, provides guidance and leadership to GEI. The organization is based in Marietta, Ga.
  • GreenSure: A self-regulated designation by paint giant Sherwin Williams, the company takes a very strict approach to VOC levels by capping it at 50 g/l through its four green-friendly products. Sherwin Williams, founded in 1866.

Photo credit: Caitlin Burke via a Creative Commons license on Flickr

Written by Rob Yunich

Rob Yunich is a Web-savvy writer with 10 years of professional communications experience. Rob is a freelance writer, editor and blogger who is a proud graduate of Syracuse University. He's also a big fan of sports and reality TV as well as an avid chef.

Learn more about Rob at, or read one of his blogs: Storming the Crease and Random Reality Thoughts.


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