Using 'Red List' of Chemicals Wisely When Selecting Paints

Using 'Red List' of Chemicals Wisely When Selecting Paints

Last of a 3-part article on using new sophisticated tools to select paint products

By Greg Zimmerman, Executive Editor  
OTHER PARTS OF THIS ARTICLEPt. 1: EPDs and HPDs Can Help Facility Managers Choose PaintsPt. 2: Use Both EDPs/HPDs and Green Product Certifications When Choosing PaintPt. 3: This Page

When using EPDs and HDPs to help select paint, another important tip, says Pedersen, is not to fall in love with the be-all-end-all “red list” of chemicals. It’s not uncommon for an organization to develop a non-negotiable list of chemicals or materials that aren’t permitted to come into a facility for any reason. But as Firth says, the important consideration isn’t whether the chemical exists in a product, but what the occupant exposure to that chemical might be.

“If you’ve gone with a comprehensive red list, you’re going to screen out a lot of products,” says Firth. “As you dig into an HPD, you’ll find that many of the chemicals are well below a hazardous threshold.”

Pedersen agrees: “Sometimes the exposure is much less than you’ll get walking down the street,” he says. “So you have to balance risk. If there’s something on a red list that’s important to make a product work, but the exposure is minimal, is that OK? There has to be some practicality with red lists.”

What’s more, paint manufacturers specifically, but many manufacturers generally, are reluctant to reveal their exact ingredients for a product, because a proprietary formulation is what makes a particular product unique in the industry. So the industry is working on other ways to disclose product ingredients without actually disclosing all product ingredients. One possibility is manufacturers providing an exclusion list, in addition to a partial list of ingredients. An exclusion list is basically a list of chemicals manufacturers could say are not in their products. The value of an exclusion list, then, is that facility managers can be sure that any chemicals which aren’t allowed in their buildings under any circumstances or at any concentration are not in that product.

Another possibility, which is already happening, is third parties like UL Environment or Green Seal taking possession of the full ingredients list, but signing confidentiality agreements, and then certifying the exclusion list themselves. That way, those who buy the products can be made aware of hazards and exposures without having a paint’s formulation revealed to a company’s competitors.

“I understand the manufacturers’ concern about competitors gaining access to proprietary formulations,” says Firth. “It is a big concern.”

The rub, then, for facility managers is to determine how to evaluate trade-offs. Is it a requirement that they know every possible ingredient and each quantified environmental impact in every product that they buy? Most would probably say, “probably not.” But do they want to know some of that information? Of course. And that’s the value of EPDs and HPDs — as a sort of last “all things being equal” test for a product, if it has met all other criteria.

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  posted on 1/27/2016   Article Use Policy

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