Ask Andy 
Q & A with veteran building material dealer/distributor 
Andy Pace of The Green Design Center.

Q: Andy… We are a small hardwood flooring installation company in Chicago and we're having a difficult time adopting these new low VOC finishes. Water based is safer than oil based…I understand that. However, many of our clients have complained about the chemical fumes coming from our water based products. If they are supposed to be low VOC, why are we still getting complaints?
– Steve Z., Chicago
A: Steve... To answer this question I'll need to explain the whole VOC issue. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a volatile organic compound is a carbon based molecule that is readily vaporized at room temperature, that could react with nitrogen and ultraviolet light and create low-level smog. 

The EPA is not the HPA (Human Protection Agency). The EPA regulates VOCs solely because of outdoor air pollution. In no way does the EPA allude to human heath as their reason for regulation. However, many paints and coatings that are sold as “eco-friendly” and “green” are still just as dangerous to humans as are their high VOC counterparts.

VOC's are not always toxic or dangerous to humans. Peel the skin off an orange and you'll be emitting 850 grams per liter of VOCs into the air. But to 99.9% of us, oranges aren't harmful. 

Toxins are not always VOCs. Acetone, ammonia, butyl acetate, formaldehyde precursors, masking agents, crystalline silica …and on and on. These ingredients are commonly used in low VOC or zero VOC coatings, because they are not regulated as volatile. However, they can be extremely hazardous to humans. As a matter of fact, out of the approximately 83,000 chemicals we are exposed to daily, only 220 have been studied to see if they are safe for humans. Yet many of them are deemed to be “eco-friendly.”

Long story short… look for products that are designed to be healthier for humans, not just better for the environment. The environment doesn't pay the invoice for your work, the human occupants do. I have extensive experience with the AFM Polyureseal BP ( product and can say without question that it represents the best combination of durability and safety that I have ever found for hardwood floors. 

Good luck!

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