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Media Statements

Paint Industry Use of Biocides

Washington, D.C., Aug. 22, 2019 —  The term “biocides” has come to encompass a wide range of materials that control the growth of unwanted, deleterious microorganisms in the environment. Purification of drinking water sources, cleaning contaminated surfaces in our homes and offices, sanitizing dishes and cookware used in food preparation, sterilizing surgical instruments and treating serious wounds or simple cuts have all become part of the public trust, reinforcing the need for effective biocides to support public health, safety and environmental protection.

The expanding use of biocides in construction products, however, has resulted in increased scrutiny of their inherent safety. The paint and coatings industry acknowledges the need to maintain proper safeguards when using biocides; it has a long history of effective collaboration with government to protect public health and the environment, and ensure effective policies for biocide use that support continued availability under total control in hazardous materials after risk assessment.

Microbial attack (i.e., mold and mildew) on painted surfaces is a wide-ranging and universal concern that has resulted in a global, coordinated strategy to combat it. The participants in this effort include the companies that make biocides: paint manufacturers that add biocides to their products; users of paints containing biocides that have come to expect the efficacy of these products to protect the painted surface and maintain desired conditions; and the government agencies charged with protecting public health and the environment that provide oversight and continued scrutiny of the safety and effectiveness of biocidal product use in paints and coatings.

The impact of microbial growth is not limited to degradation of applied paint films; it also occurs during production and storage of paints and coatings. Increasingly, paint producers have embraced waterborne technology, using formulations that are low in volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) and other hazardous materials with lower emissions during application and drying. As with most waterborne products, paints require the use of “in-can” preservatives to protect them from spoilage. Without these biocides, waterborne paints would fail in storage, first losing their viscosity, then progressing to malodor, before ultimately a complete product breakdown. In extreme cases, the microbial decomposition can generate gases that rupture the container.

The importance of biocide use for in-can preservation and microbial attacks cannot be understated. It is a fact that over the past 75 years, market growth and public acceptance of waterborne paints and coatings has only been possible with the use of biocides. Manufacturer efforts to protect waterborne paints from microbial growth have enhanced plant hygiene and developed work practice controls that ensure product integrity throughout the supply chain. These efforts are part of a holistic approach to microbial control that ensures protection, but also optimizes the use of biocides to a level that is necessary to do the job.

Regulatory agencies around the world acknowledge the need for effective biocides to use in formulating paints and coatings, and a variety of legal constructs exist whereby manufactures of biocides provide detailed information on product safety and toxicology, efficacy in microbial control, and required formulation and use controls. This information is used by government scientists to determine if the proposed biocide can be safely used. The review process is open to comment from interested parties and additional expressed concerns are addressed. The rigor and thoroughness of these regulatory processes has resulted in a limited number of approved biocides being deemed safe, and therefore available for use by industry.

Additional specialized uses of biocides in certain paints and coatings are critical to protection of the substrates on which they are applied. Wood preservative materials are used to suspend the growth of microorganisms and other lifeforms that are associated with the destruction of wood and wood structures. Marine and offshore protective coatings are used to reduce the growth of marine microorganisms and associated biofilms that degrade vessels and steel structures, and slow their propulsion through the water. These coatings also reduce fuel consumption and greenhouse gasses from vessels. Both uses are highly regulated and face increased and stringent regulatory controls whereby end users, paint manufacturers, and the producers of the biocides (i.e., active ingredients) work closely with government agencies to ensure safe use. This supports new ideas that help advance consumer protection and reinforce safe use of biocides in paints and coatings.

Helpful Resources

Latex allergies and latex paint

Does latex paint pose a threat to those who suffer from latex allergies?

No, latex paint is note made with latex rubber; in fact, “latex” is really just a decorative way describe rubber-based paint. Latex paint is a carefully formulated polyvinyl material with acrylic resin and has never contained natural rubber. It is a natural rubber that causes an allergic reaction, so people who have sensitivity to latex products are in no danger of having a reaction to latex paint.

Meaning of VOC's in paint

What does ‘VOCs’ in paint mean?

Consumers now have more choices than ever when making a decision to buy paint, including many environmentally conscious paints and coatings. Driven by regulatory and market demand, the U.S. paint and coatings industry has responded by producing a broad range of offerings that deliver excellent quality while minimizing the environmental impact, for safe use by consumers.

Among the products considered to be more environmentally responsible paint, the term “Low-VOC” is often used.

But what’s a VOC, anyway?

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, are organic chemical compounds whose composition makes it possible for them to evaporate under normal indoor atmospheric conditions of temperature and pressure.” Broken down, “volatile” describes a liquid that evaporates at room temperature, and the word “organic” means it is a compound that contains carbon. Some VOCs react in the atmosphere with oxides of nitrogen in the presence of sunlight to form ozone, a precursor to smog.

It is important to realize that there are thousands of different VOCs found in the air — many emitted from natural sources including trees and vegetation, and some man-made sources such as motor vehicle exhaust, unburned gasoline, and solvents found in air fresheners, markers, furniture, carpets, printers, and paints.

In paints and coatings, VOCs are used as solvents or thinners that work with the resin — the part that binds together all the ingredients of the paint and sticks them onto the wall or surface — to achieve excellent performance and durability. These organic solvents facilitate the paint’s application, drying, and the formation of a regular paint film. If paints were just water and resins, they would streak down a wall when applied and create lapping.

Today’s consumer paints and coatings are formulated and manufactured with safety and the environment in mind, and they conform to strict regulations in order to make it to market. Regulatory environmental and occupational health constraints on the composition of paints and coatings have resulted in wholesale technology shifts, from typical “solvent-borne,” or “oil-based” paints to waterborne, coatings products. In fact, this is particularly notable in the architectural coatings market where some 83 percent of sales are for environmentally preferable water-based paint. At the same time, many of these alternate technologies still need to be formulated with some solvent or VOC content to ensure that they deliver quality and high performance. In addition, many regulatory agencies have acknowledged that certain VOCs do not contribute to ozone formation and the degradation of ambient air quality. Industry use of these “exempt solvents” has been allowed, but the nature and extent of use is being carefully monitored by regulatory agencies.

Environmentally friendly paints on the market are specifically important for use around sensitive populations — in nurseries and hospitals — and many are low-odor, too. Keep in mind that odor is not a barometer for safety — there are many chemicals that cannot be detected by smell, but are toxic, and some that have an odor that aren’t toxic.

All consumer paints on the market are safe to use, but as with anything, the best way to ensure a safe paint job is ALWAYS read the product label, which offers appropriate precautions and guidance on ways to protect yourself during use. Manufacturers are required to list certain ingredients and use warnings, so follow the label instructions, including the following:

  • Always ensure adequate ventilation of the painted space, both DURING and AFTER application—open windows and doors wherever possible.
  • Use appropriate personal protective equipment—this is particularly important if you are sanding or scraping a space before a paint job.
  • Buy only what you need to for your paint job to minimize waste and prevent unnecessary disposal.
Renovation safety & lead-based paint

To safely renovate homes that contain lead-based paint, please consult joint guidance issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Consumer Product Safety Commission: Protect Your Family From Lead in Your Home


What to do with leftover paint

Many people have leftover paint because it’s not easy to know how much paint to purchase in the first place. PaintCare is an ACA initiative, that plans and operates paint stewardship programs in U.S. states to manage leftover paint for reuse, recycling, energy recovery, or safe disposal. Use the PaintCare drop-off site locator to see where you can drop off your leftover paint; and view tips to help in every step of the process to paint smarter, including figuring out how much paint to buy; proper storage to make paint last longer in storage; ideas for using it up; and more!

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Lisa Warren Román

Danielle Chalom

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