Consider VOCs When Choosing Surface Coatings

How facilities can comply with EPA standards with high solids coatings


EPA VOC regulations explained

From paint to floor coatings, understanding volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, is an important part of selecting products for your facility. VOCs are a group of organic chemical compounds that can evaporate under normal temperatures and pressures and affect indoor air quality.

The federal government has placed many regulations on the amount of VOCs a facility can emit. The term “VOC-compliant” refers to substances that meet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s standards. Building owners and facility managers who violate the EPA’s VOC regulations could end up paying a hefty fine.

Many VOC regulations are in place today, but the most important standards facility managers need to know about involve architectural coatings. A section of the Clean Air Act of 1970 details the maximum VOC levels for these coatings. VOC limits on specific coatings are listed in “Table 1 to Subpart D of Part 59 – Volatile Organic Compound (VOC), Content Limits for Architectural Coatings,” which you can view here. The regulations affect everything from concrete coatings and floor coatings to fire-retardant and high-temperature paints.

The EPA calculates VOC-related fines based on how high a facility’s emissions are over the limit. You can expect to pay US$0.0028 per gram, $1.27 per pound, or $2,500 per ton for violations. The fines can add up quickly, especially for a larger facility.

If you’re wondering how violating VOC regulations could affect your facility, take a look at Chicago’s BWAY Corp. In 2019, the company settled with the EPA after it was found in violation of the Clean Air Act. Along with upgrades to air pollution control equipment, the company paid a fine of $140,000.

Between 2016 and 2018, the California Air Resource Board settled 32 cases dealing with cosmetic products. Penalties issued as part of these settlements ranged from $2,000 to $199,500.

Putting EPA penalties aside, you’ll want to focus on air quality in your building as part of your facility’s commitment to health and safety. Air pollution can negatively affect people’s health, cognitive function, and productivity. Needless to say, it’s important to keep the air in your building as clean as possible.

High solids coatings solve VOC concerns

High solids or 100% solids coatings are industrial coatings that contain minimal amounts of solvents or no solvents at all. These coatings are easy to apply—and since 100% solids coatings don’t include solvents, they don’t contain VOCs. For facility painting projects, using 100% solids coatings can help avoid exceeding EPA’s permissible VOC emissions levels.

More than just environmentally friendly paint, 100% solids coatings have the same wet and dry thickness, meaning you can paint more surface with less paint. Maintenance crews can reach their desired coating thickness with fewer coats, saving valuable time.

Of course, you’ll want to consider not only the amount of solids in a coating, but also the chemical composition that’s best suited for your project.

For many facility managers, 100% solids epoxy is a popular choice. It can offer both compliance with EPA regulations and excellent performance. Its other advantages include:

  • A lower environmental impact
  • Fewer coats are required
  • It cures faster than alternatives do.

At the same time, it has certain weak points:

  • It can be more expensive
  • It is difficult to clean up if oversprayed
  • It is sensitive to changes in temperature.

For indoor use and jobs where time is an important factor, 100% solids epoxy is a good option. You can also use it to cut down on emissions. In any project, though, you should take time to make sure you’re using the right coating for your needs.

Consider the following key takeaways:

  • Do your research—Facility managers should be aware of the VOC limits affecting their industry. Proper research ensures you’re buying the right type of coating for your needs. You can find a list of VOC regulations by industry here.
  • Check the safety data sheet (SDS) before buying—When researching coatings, look for products that have gone through third-party testing. The SDS or product data sheet should include the information you need.
  • Not all coating suppliers are created equal—Make sure you work with an industrial coating supplier you trust. Review multiple bids before deciding on a contractor or supplier that’s right for you.
Posted On May 10, 2021

Thomas O’Shaughnessy

Owner of CDN Paint

Thomas O’Shaughnessy is the owner of CDN Paint, the online platform that connects owners, facility managers, engineers (and everyone else) with top-rated coatings professionals.

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