This article is written in relation to paint but is applicable to anyone trying to understand more about VOCs in general.
What are Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)?
We generally do not like to speak directly about other specific brands, but every big paint company has a "zero voc" paint they tout as "environmental", and they are essentially all the same. There are a few simple points worth noting:
1. Zero voc does not mean zero emissions, or even zero voc. This is because the government allows the use of many chemicals which are actually voc's (technical definition of a volatile organic compound is simply the presence of a carbon atom in the chain), but which do not cause smog. These are called "exempt compounds" - they are voc's which do not count against the manufacturer as voc's, allowing the product to be marketed as "zero" voc. Note that government regulation of voc is not concerned with toxicity or health; it is based simply on the fact that some voc's react with nitrous oxides and ultra violet light to form low level ozone, or smog. If the voc's don't participate in this reaction, the government doesn't really care if they are toxic or not, and so they can be exempted from the voc calculation.
Disclaimer: Organic Lifestyle carries AFM Safecoat line.
How does AFM's Safecoat line compare to other popular brands?
Even though the popular brand was marketed as zero voc, or close thereto, it actually registered very high levels of emissions (in this case 246 grams per liter, 2.05 pounds per gallon), because the tests did not screen for exempt compounds. The Safecoat paint registered a true zero.
2. It is not enough simply to take regular paint and remove the voc so you can have a product that can be marketed as environmental. To make a paint that works from a health and reduced toxicity standpoint, you have to build it from the ground up. This is what AFM has been doing for over 20 years.
From AFM's website:
It is why even our regular paints, which have low voc, are so well tolerated even by people who are chemically sensitive. And it is why, since the introduction of zero voc paints by the multi-billion dollar paint companies, we get frequent calls and letters from people who have used them, believing that they were safe, who find that something in the paint is making them sick. Most of the time, they actually wind up repainting with Safecoat, and this seems to work for them.
3. We go far beyond voc in formulating. One big reason for the price difference is that we have to use very high quality, very refined resins and raw materials to avoid the residual chemical compounds which offgas and cause problems for people with allergies or sensitivities. We make sure the products not only contain no formaldehyde, but no formaldehyde precursors as well.