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To measure VOC content in waterborne coatings more accurately, Jones and his colleagues at Cal Poly developed a technique based on gas chromatography, with which compounds in a paint sample can be separated according to their boiling points. This allows a direct analysis of total levels as well as individual levels of specific VOCs. Because of its accuracy, this method — ASTM D 6886 — has been adopted by regulators in California and by some green building standards.

Meanwhile, the EPA is under pressure to modify Method 24 and adopt a direct method such as ASTM D 6886; in fact, says Jones, many paint makers are already labeling their cans according to results from ASTM D 6886 testing. “A basic gas chromatograph costs about $25,000,” says Jones. “Now, many medium and large-size paint companies have one in their laboratories.”

The color problem. These days, most paints are tinted at the point of purchase, usually with solvent-based “universal colorants.” These pigments can actually double the actual VOC levels of low-VOC paints, which until recently have only been tested in their base colors, before tinting. The EPA acknowledges that this is a problem, but admits that it doesn’t have a solution. It’s been left to the various regional agencies and authors of green building standards to come up with answers. For example, the Green Seal GS-11 paint standard — referenced by the LEED program — limits colorants to no more than 50 g/l VOC content, and paints tinted at the point of sale to no more than 100 g/l VOC content. How this can be verified is unclear, however.

Some manufacturers have substituted waterborne pigments for universal colorants. According to Mike Mundwiller of Benjamin Moore, the company’s waterborne colorants use acrylic pigments that can be completely encapsulated by the resins in the paint, adding no VOCs while enhancing the paint’s chemical structure. “Solvent-based universal colorants actually detract from paint performance, which is why deep red latex paints, which require a lot of tinting, don’t hide well and tend to rub off,” he says.

No-VOC vs. nontoxic. The EPA concedes that paints that meet its definition of “low-VOC” or even “no-VOC” can actually contain toxic organic compounds and other toxic ingredients. That’s because VOCs that aren’t photochemically reactive are exempt from EPA regulations; also, the EPA measures total VOCs, not individual levels of specific VOCs. For instance, formaldehyde is one of the few indoor air pollutants that can be readily measured and is the only one that is actually regulated — but not by the EPA. OSHA’s permissible exposure level (PEL) for formaldehyde is .75 ppm, while HUD’s acceptable exposure level in mobile homes is .40 ppm. If the amounts of ingredients like formaldehyde, ammonia, or crystalline silica are small enough, manufacturers don’t have to disclose them to the EPA. For that kind of information, contractors will need to look at material safety data sheets from the manufacturers and rely on third-party certification from organizations like Green Seal (greenseal.org), GreenGuard (greenguard.org), and Master Painters Institute (mpi.net). — A.W.


Offcuts

With jobs and credit scarce, some home builders are working directly for lenders, many of whom have been left holding unfinished homes after the original builders went bankrupt, reports The Wall Street Journal. The contract work “helps stop the bleeding,” said Las Vegas builder Randy Schaefer, who slashed his workforce from 17 to 8 after the housing market tanked in 2007. “It isn’t my first choice, but it helps keep me in business.” Schaefer is paid a flat fee on the three to four homes a month he has agreed to build for an unfinished subdivision of 170 houses. The arrangement is becoming increasingly common in hard-hit markets like Nevada, Arizona, and California.

Hitachi has announced the recall of 65,000 NV83A2 coil framing nailers sold in the U.S. and Canada. A faulty feed mechanism may allow these tools to eject nails sideways, injuring users and bystanders. There have been 37 reported incidents, 15 of which resulted in injuries — most to the face and eyes. The guns subject to this recall were manufactured in Japan between October 2002 and September 2005. For more information, contact Hitachi at 800/706-7337 or go to hitachipowertools.com.

Six New Jersey women were hospitalized after receiving buttocks-enhancement injections containing nonmedical-grade silicone caulking, reports The Star-Ledger of Newark. “It’s the same stuff you use to put caulk around the bathtub,” a state health official told the newspaper. The women were treated for infections and are recovering, said state epidemiologist Tina Tan, “but there is the potential for more serious complications if these infections are not treated early and properly.”

Market analysts are looking to 85 million baby boomers now approaching retirement age to boost new-home sales. According to The Dallas Morning News, many homeowners entering their 60s are looking to downsize, reduce energy costs, and relocate to be closer to family. This group could account for up to 270,000 house purchases by next year. There’s a slight catch, however: To do so, many will have to sell their current homes.