Sunday, October 10, 2010

Environment-Friendly Paints and Finishes

There is much ongoing construction on DePaul’s loop campus. After watching the renovations on the 14 E Jackson building over the last few months and talking to a construction personnel about the upgrades, I can’t help but wonder- what type of building materials are they using and is it eco-friendly and health conscious?

EPA has indicated that air quality is one of the top 5 leading health risk issues in the US. One growing concern is volatile organic compounds (VOCs) found in paint. VOCs are substances are emitted gases from solids or liquids. VOCs include a variety of chemicals, some of which may have short- and long-term adverse health effects to humans and the environment. Most conventional products off-gas VOCs have no other benefits besides enhancing the performance or extend shelf life of the product.

The other concern is the production of the paint. I question whether the paint is produced from naturally derived and non-toxic substances or not?

Paints and coatings have their greatest effect on indoor air quality during and immediately after installation. The health hazard is particularly acute for installers. Most conventional products off-gas VOCs, and other chemicals that are added to enhance the performance or extend shelf life of the product and serve no other benefit.

When paints are produced, raw materials are extracted through quarrying and can destroy the natural environment. Using paints that use renewable sources like flax seed can reduce the health effects and the amount of natural resources extracted from the Earth.

A solution to the issue is to buy alternative paint and finishes substitutions. Most of these eco-friendly paints are lower in toxicity or nontoxic, by-products and naturally derived with low VOCs or no VOCs in the products. One might question if the paint is only ideal for indoor or recreational art uses, but many paint manufacturers have designed them for both interior and exterior uses.

Here are a few examples of eco-friendly paints:

Linseed oil based paint is and example of using flax plant by-products that are found in the food industry. The product lifetime is much higher that synthetic based paints that contain no solvents and are all natural. If the color fades overtime, the can be restored with linseed oil. The next dieal environment friendly products is wood and vegetable oil based paint that is made from natural elements such as soy beans, oak bark, and madder root. Again, these are naturally available and renewable materials. The types of VOCs that are released are not toxic which is not harmful to the environment. Other natural based paints are casein, protein, distemper, milk, and clay based paints. The last product group is low-odor, low VOCs or zero VOCs paints include shellac, interior wood finish, natural wax, natural oils, and beeswax. Most of these paints share similar characteristics that make them renewable, sustainable and natural.

Most of these paint products are produced specifically with the environment in mind. Many environment-minded companies take into consideration VOCs, reducing the amount of quarrying of natural goods and finding ways to use renewable products. Using natural and low VOCs paints in DePaul’s construction process will help improve air quality and basic healthy living for the students, faculty and ultimately the environment.


By: Mary Deemer
Photo credits: Show room 411, Environmental protection department

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