Solvent-busting rule means flat paints will be greener

Special to The Times

If YOU'RE dressing up your house with a fresh coat of color, a new generation of paints will help the environment, though not your pocketbook.

Starting July 1, all flat paints made, sold and used within Orange and major portions of San Bernardino, Riverside and Los Angeles counties must have 50 grams or less of volatile organic compounds per liter. Because flats are what most people put on the exterior of their homes, this means there will be more, and better, water-based latex paint.

"The best paint on the market now is latex because that's where all the money has gone" in research and development, says Peggy McCloud, owner of Jill's Paint in Atwater Village.

Retailers and suppliers will have a three-year grace period to phase out their existing stock of flat paints that contain higher levels of the ozone-depleting solvents.

The move away from oil-based paints is part of the South Coast Air Quality Management District's 30-year effort to reduce emissions from paint, stains, finishes, lacquers, colorants, primers and shellacs. Architectural coatings account for 23 tons of smog-causing emissions every day, more than the daily output of local oil refineries. But that number is down from 60 tons of emissions from paint in the late 1990s, according to Sam Atwood, AQMD spokesman.

The reformulated, low-VOC paints dry in 30 minutes and cover twice as much area as oil-based paints. Paint manufacturer Benjamin Moore, one of the leaders in reducing VOCs, has invested more than $150 million in launching its new Aura line of latex coatings, rolling out a new exterior line this month. It's considered premium paint, selling for just under $60 a gallon.

"The colorants we've used have always been glycol-based, developed over 20 years ago to be universal, usable in oil-based or water-based paints," says Mike Branch, manager of field product implementation for Benjamin Moore. "The bad thing about them was they were full of solvents, 300 to 600 grams per liter. The proprietary water-based colorants we developed have less than 10 grams per liter."


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