Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
What Are They and What Are Their Effects?
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are found in everything from paints and coatings to underarm deodorant and cleaning fluids. They are a major concern of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state air quality boards all over the United States. VOCs have been found to be a major contributing factor to ozone, a common air pollutant which has been proven to be a public health hazard.
While ozone in the upper atmosphere is beneficial, ozone at ground level is quite the opposite. The atmospheric ozone layer helps protect us from the sun's dangerous ultraviolet rays. Ground level ozone, however, is a highly reactive gas that according to EPA studies "affects the normal function of the lung in many healthy humans."
These studies show that breathing air with ozone concentrations above air quality standards aggravates symptoms of people with pulmonary diseases and seems to increase rates of asthma attacks. There is also evidence that prolonged exposure to ozone causes permanent damage to lung tissue and interferes with the functioning of the immune system.
Ozone has been a difficult pollutant to control because it is not emitted into the air, but actually formed in the atmosphere through a photochemical process. It is in this process that VOCs play a significant role. VOCs in the air react with oxides of nitrogen and sunlight to form ozone. For this reason, the EPA has determined that controlling VOCs is an effective method for minimizing ozone levels.
California was the first state to enact laws limiting the VOC content in paints and coatings. New York, New Jersey, Texas and Arizona have already joined California with regional laws of their own, and it is expected that more states will soon follow. Traditionally, California's environmental rules have set a precedence for federal regulations, as well as those of other states. The EPA is currently engaged in a regulatory negotiation process to develop a national VOC regulation that will be effective in all states.
VOC Limits on Cleaning Products
CARB / OTC VOC RESTRICTIONS
The California Air Resource Board (CARB) and several northeastern states that are members of the Ozone Transport Commission (OTC) are now regulating the VOC (volatile organic compound) levels of many consumer products with the goal of improving air quality. Consumer products is defined very broadly in these regulations and includes many commercial and institutional products including car care products- in addition to household product.) California has been regulating the VOC content in consumer products for many years now. In contrast, VOC regulations in the northeastern states only went into effect in 2005. The VOC rule adopted for the OTC is 350 ml/liter.
Prior VOC Regulations
The United States EPA issued new laws concerning limits on volatile organic compounds (VOC) for the Architectural and Industrial Maintenance (AIM) industry. These laws were documented in the Federal Register on September 11,1998 and went into effect on September 13, 1999.
Products manufactured prior to September 13, 1999, are not affected. Products manufactured after this date are subject to EPA laws. Wood floor Varnish (finishes) will have a maximum allowable limit of 350 g/l (grams per liter).
Wood floor finishes are defined under the same rule as a Varnish, meaning a clear or semi-transparent coating, excluding lacquers and shellacs. They are formulated and recommended to provide a durable, solid, protective film. Varnishes may contain small amounts of pigment to color a surface, or to control the final sheen or gloss of the finish.
Wood floor seals are defined under the rule as a Sanding Sealer, meaning a clear wood coating. They are formulated and recommended for application to bare wood to seal the wood and to provide a coat that can be sanded to create a smooth surface. These definitions apply to the "in field" application of coatings to stationary structures; not to shop applications.
Some pollution control districts in California and elsewhere will have lower limits than the national law. These laws do not affect products used in Canada or Mexico.