While not widely known or understood by consumers, emissions from paints applied to architectural surfaces do have an impact on air quality. Point sources, such as tall stacks and exhaust vents from factories, are more obvious, but the combined effects of using and applying paint have not escaped the expanding net of government regulation. Ever-tightening regulatory proposals for VOCs in architectural coatings continue to shape product offerings and present challenges to architects, engineers, construction firms and building-maintenance personnel. Adding to the current regulations is a myriad of green-building standards that take their cues from regulatory trends and market developments. As members of the green-building community, it is important you have a better perspective about this sometimes confusing and conflicting array of considerations.

Architectural and industrial maintenance, or AIM, coatings are those typically applied to stationary structures or associated accessories, such as pavements and curbs. The major categories of AIM products include flats, non-flats, primers, floor coatings and stains. There are more than 40 specialty categories, each formulated for a purpose.

Under the federal Clean Air Act, states must develop a plan to comply with established ambient air-quality standards for ozone, a known precursor to air pollution and smog. AIM coatings are a relatively large source of VOCs, which contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone and, in turn, smog. Requiring paint manufacturers to lower AIM VOC content in their products is one way local air districts can help improve air quality.

Because of the serious air-pollution problems in southern California, the South Coast Air Quality Management District, Diamond Bar, Calif., has the most stringent formulation limits in the U.S. Many AIM products sold in California are formulated specifically for that region and are not marketed throughout the U.S. because they lack critical performance requirements for northern climates. In addition, the statewide California Air Resources Board, Sacramento, promotes a “Suggested Control Measure” for the other California air-quality-management districts to follow when regulating AIM coatings. The CARB Suggested Control Measure is not as stringent as the SCAQMD requirements but still focuses on the development and distribution of new low- VOC coatings.

Responding to requirements in the federal Clean Air Act, the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states have formed a Washington, D.C.-based group called the Ozone Transport Commission to advance air-pollution control strategies that cross state boundaries. The OTC states relied on California for help in guiding their individual state restrictions on AIM VOC levels, choosing to embrace the 2000 CARB Suggested Control Measure through the OTC AIM Model Rule. The OTC AIM Model Rule is more stringent that the National AIM rule; for example, flats are 100 grams per liter versus 250 g/l under the National AIM Rule. Similarly, states surrounding Lake Michigan have formed the Lake Michigan Air Directors Consortium, Rosemont, Ill. However, Ohio and Illinois are the only states within the consortium that have moved forward with the OTC AIM Model Rule.

In 1998, the Washington-based U.S. Environmental Protection Agency promulgated the National AIM Rule standard under the Clean Air Act, providing a federal “floor” for VOC-content restrictions but allowing states to have stricter standards to meet their specific pollution-reduction goals. VOC controls for AIM coatings have been in place for some time and new regulatory proposals continue to explore ways to further reduce their contribution to air pollution.

In March, the EPA lowered the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for ozone to 0.075 parts per million. The efforts by states to achieve this new standard are likely to focus additional attention on the VOC content of AIM coatings. One state, California, has levied VOC product fees that seek to offset regulatory costs and create market incentives to reduce VOC usage by industry.

All of these inventive regulatory initiatives are driving further technology changes by the paint industry. But what about private standards that have developed in the marketplace—specifically the myriad green-building standards and the impact they have on coatings technology used in construction products that seek to conform to those ratings?

Green-building standards affect AIM coatings formulations in two ways: first through the reduction in VOC content in a manner consistent with the current regulatory requirements to control ozone formation, and second, through specific restrictions on chemical content aimed at addressing the impact on IAQ and other health-related concerns. The coatings industry has a long history of interacting with the largely private standard-setting organizations that have crafted various profiles for conforming coatings products.

    Washington-based Green Seal was the first private standard that sought to conform the formulations of AIM coatings to meet greenproduct definitions. The GS-11 standard for interior and exterior architectural coatings established VOC restrictions based on the SCAQMD requirements and sought further restrictions on aromatic compounds, as well as a host of heavy metals and other chemical components, most of which generally are not used in AIM coatings.
  • LEED
    The LEED standard developed by the Washingtonbased U.S. Green Building Council addresses lowemitting materials in new construction and specifically addresses paints and coatings used on the interior of a building; they are defined as “inside of the weatherproofing system and applied on-site.” LEED has embraced standards for VOC content limits established by Green Seal’s GS-11 and the SCAQMD standards. As a result, the coatings industry has been able to supply product to builders and developers seeking to conform to LEED standards.
    The American National Standards Institute, Washington, working with the National Association of Home Builders Research Foundation, Washington, is nearing completion of a new green-building standard that integrates many of the IAQ protection measures embedded in LEED and Green Seal standards. A new aspect of the ANSI-NAHBRF standard also includes opportunities for those conforming to the standard to seek products certified to other private standards that integrate additional emissions testing protocols.
    This private commercial standard established by Emeryville, Calif.-based Scientific Certification Systems, in addition to embracing VOC and chemical-component restrictions, also is emissionsbased. Paint manufacturers seeking certification need to submit their product so emissions can be assessed using a small-chamber testing device.

The good news is that the industry has a wide variety of products available to customers interested in minimizing emissions and meeting green-building standards. Some paint and coatings products specifically have been formulated without VOCs, using advanced resin technology that provides many of the performance features achieved previously with the use of various VOCs. However, while these types of products are being embraced by the consuming public, there is a limit to how far this technology can go in meeting the broader performance requirements for many types of AIM coatings, including exterior and specialty application uses.
Stephen R. Sides is vice president, environmental, health and international affairs with the National Paint and Coatings Association Inc., Washington, D.C. He can be reached atssides@paint.orgor (202) 462-6272.