EPA responds to Consumer Reports article on low-VOC paint, vows action

Consumer Reports News: April 09, 2009 10:37 AM

Green paint has gone mainstream. Many major manufacturers have at least one line that's low in volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and several eco-friendly niche brands have joined the market. The Environmental Protection Agency's attention to low-VOC paints, however, has lagged, as we reported in our March 2009 report on interior paints.

Among the article's findings:
• Federal VOC limits are higher than those set by many regional and state agencies.
• The national test method for measuring VOCs is outdated.
• Limits should apply to tints, which are typically added to the can at the point of purchase, not just to base coats.
• The federal government should establish VOC standards for indoor-air pollutants.

Consumer Reports received a response to the article in a March 31, 2009, letter from the EPA, signed by Acting Assistant Administrator Elizabeth Craig. She noted that the EPA is working on an amendment to the current VOC rule that will lower federal VOC limits to 150 grams per liter (g/l) for nonflat finishes and 100 g/l for flat. The amendment will also call for a more accurate test method for VOCs. As for colorants, Craig wrote, "We are not aware of any state or local agency that has included colorants in the VOC emission calculation for architectural coatings." But, she added that the EPA will solicit public comment on the issue with an eye toward future action.

Craig did not address our concerns of indoor-air quality and VOCs since the EPA has no statutory authority to regulate VOC in the indoor environment. She noted that "the EPA's Indoor Environments Division is currently working to increase its public education efforts and the public's understanding of issues related to VOC in the indoor environment."

"We appreciate the timely response from the EPA acknowledging our concerns around VOC limits for paints and pigments and explaining their plans for upcoming regulatory actions to address," says Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., director of technical policy at Consumers Union.

The EPA has said it will promulgate a new rule for stricter VOC regulation some time after December 2009. We'll continue to report on the agency's efforts.—Daniel DiClerico | | Twitter

Essential information: Read our buying advice for air purifiers and use these simple tips to improve the quality of your home.

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