The use of “zero” or “low”- Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in construction materials is on the rise, and with it are industry misconceptions that low-VOC materials (such as adhesives, primers, coatings, or sealants) are odorless and tolerable to the indoor air environment.  Facts prove it may be just the opposite.

Many construction materials and everyday household products have odors and VOCs that may impact those with sensitivities.  For example, hospitals, particularly Operating Rooms (ORs), have the distinct aroma of clean medical equipment and hand sanitizer.  Imagine a hospital forced to shut down their fully scheduled ORs due to the infiltration of an “odorless” low-VOC primer that bypassed the hospital’s preventative measures!

Since 2012, the roofing industry is required to follow federally mandated regulations to reduce VOC emissions to the outdoors.  As a result, water-based adhesives, coatings, and primers have grown in popularity versus the much higher VOC concentrated solvents.  Much of the popularity is the result of effective marketing strategies of manufacturers labeling their products as “zero” or “low”-VOC compliant materials.

Some certified labels are based on the VOC’s released from the product indoors and how the product may impact the health of the occupants.  Other certification programs are based on the content of VOC’s that are regulated to control the outdoor air pollution, resulting in a lack of standardization and misconceptions regarding VOCs.

So, how can industry professionals, building owners and managers combat VOC odors and protect their occupants?

 

  • Inform the Design Team if the building occupants are sensitive to construction odors.
  • Request Safety Data Sheets (SDS) for each material from the contractor or manufacturer prior to the start of construction and consult an environmental health specialist.  Require a full binder of SDS be left with the Owner’s Representative and for the contractor to keep a copy on the project site.
  • Understand the operations of the building’s mechanical systems and air intake locations.  Perhaps, it may be logistically feasible to systematically shut down any intakes while work is proceeding in the area.
  • Implement preventative measures to reduce odors within the building’s mechanical systems by installing specialized filters at intakes, or scheduling temporary mechanical shut downs.
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