Every painter knows what VOCs are. Volatile Organic Compounds can be disastrous for the environment and despite continued progress in reducing VOC levels in many paint products, they still exist as a necessary aspect of commercial painting. VOCs are what give the paint its consistency in everything from adhesion to color. As the paint dries, VOCs evaporate and enter the atmosphere, combining with oxygen and sunlight to create ozone in a way that is harmful to the environment. While some ozone in the upper reaches of the atmosphere are good for the environment, ozone closer to where humans, plants, and animals live can produce catastrophic and unintended consequences.
The most significant change in paint additives and paint chemistry in the last half century is the comprehensive removal of lead from paint and paint products. Lead was outright poison to not only plants and painters, but also to the people that lived around walls and buildings that had been painted with lead paint. Thankfully, most paint is water-based now and is considerably safer for painters, the environment, and customers. That said, even water-based paints still contain VOCs and the best intentions of paint manufacturers still fall short in removing all of the toxic byproducts of paint. Why? Because while the manufacture of paints and paint additives is getting safer and friendlier for the environment, the use of those same paints and additives continues to be harmful.
Consider this list of environmental dangers that still exist with regard to paint and paint additives:
- Paint disposal – Discarded items that were coated in lead paint and discarded paint cans still containing leftover paint, meaning uncontrolled toxins are still exposed to the environment.
- Air quality – The aforementioned VOCs mean that the air quality surrounding plants and humans may contain toxic substances like ozone. If the release of VOCs during painting wasn’t bad enough, they can be released again during the paint stripping process.
- Water quality – Paint runoff and overspray can eventually find its way to surrounding water tables, impacting the quality of water available to plants, humans, and wildlife. Furthermore, some paints still contain metals (antifouling paints, for example) that can dissolve into water if not used properly, creating harmful aquatic conditions.
Solving these issues requires a combination of education and diligence with regards to using paint in any manner. New regulations in some countries mean that VOC content must be published on the paint can so painters are acutely aware of the environmental impact of their chosen materials. Many cities and counties are integrating paint-disposal stations into municipal services. And both the EPA and European Union continue to evaluate and prescribe VOC regulations in an effort to encourage paint manufacturers to continue their quest to make safer paints.
While these are good first steps, the reality is that paint chemistry is complicated and the byproducts of different combinations can create amazing paint materials…and disastrous environmental conditions. The burden of creating safe paints can’t simply fall to manufacturers; paint professionals must join the fight as well by choosing paints and additives that reduce the VOCs (and resulting ozone) released into the environment. It is up to you, the professional painter, to protect yourself, your clients, and the communities in which you work. Click here to learn more about how BYK is creating products that are better for the environment then ever before!