Focus on architectural: Indoor air quality and paint

Focus on architectural: Indoor air quality and paint

indoor air quality and paint

An article by Jennifer Whelan, COO at Allergy Standards Ltd, originally published in Polymers Paint Colour Journal on 09 April 2024

One of the pressing issues in the paint industry is the release of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can pose challenges for individuals with asthma, allergies and other respiratory conditions. Here, Jennifer Whelan, Chief Operating Officer at Allergy Standards Ltd, discusses how paint manufacturers such as Nippon Paint and AkzoNobel, amongst others, have used its Certification Program to tackle this issue

To trace the evolution of paint, we could go right back to cave paintings thousands of years ago. But even in more recent times, developments from water-based bases to low-emitting paints and now to bio-based materials mean that overall hazard profiles are unrecognisable from what they were in previous generations.

The commitment of many players in the paint industry to continuous improvement of their paint with relation to indoor air quality and impact on building occupants is undeniable. But it’s one thing to build better formulations and quite another thing to convey this to a consumer. How do you distill years of work on complex chemical formulations into a message to your target consumer, letting them know that a paint is better for the indoor environment and therefore, better for building occupants?

Independent and third-party verification is a good route to do this. A certification can provide external validation of internal test results, but can also provide a trusted source of authority for buyers and consumers. Any genuine certification or verification process will have a timeline associated with it – products will need to be tested or otherwise assessed, obligations of continuing compliance need to be agreed and an ongoing inspection process needs to be agreed.

With the speed of change in markets these days, and of course pressure on budgets, sometimes companies opt for a murkier alternative – the selfie seal. This is where a company places a logo or other device on a product that lookslike a certification or seal of approval by a third party, but is actually an empty marketing tool. These are sometimes called ‘selfie seals’, or as the US Federal Trade Commission has described them, ‘performing seals’.

This type of problem is particularly common in the green product space, with manufacturers coming under increasing pressure to demonstrate the green credentials of their products and processes. Regulators are increasingly acting on selfie seals.

A recent EU Commission study looked at 150 environmental claims on products and found that over half of them provided vague, misleading or unfounded information.[1] 37% of claims were vague enough to be likely to deceive consumers. As a result the Commission has recommended that the EU’s Unfair Commercial Practices Directive be amended to ensure the fairness and reliability of sustainability labels and seals.

In the USA, the Code of Federal Regulations states that “It is deceptive to misrepresent, directly or by implication, that a product, package, or service has been endorsed or certified by an independent third party.”[2] The Federal Trade Commission carries out enforcement actions against “seals or certifications that companies award themselves without clearly explaining that to consumers”.[3]

Investing in genuine third party certification avoids these regulatory pitfalls, and it also reduces risk in general by having product performance claims validated by an independent third party.

The asthma & allergy friendly® Certification Program provides an interconnection between multiple industries and approaches to the indoor environment. Rather than focussing only on coatings, we look at the indoor environment in a holistic way, certifying building materials (paint, flooring, insulation), appliances (air cleaners, vacuum cleaners, dehumidifiers), laundry-related products (washing machines, detergents), cleaning products (surface cleaners, dusting wipes), and more. The end user that we build our programme for is one who is dealing with asthma and/or allergies. We design our certification standards with these highly sensitive individuals in mind, leading to strict and best-in-class standards that ensure a better indoor environment for all.

Our holistic approach can also be seen in our health-based focus, as well as our materials science focus.  The Certification Program is doctor-founded, and domain experts in the areas of filtration, toxicology, materials chemistry etc. contribute to the development of our standards.

We look at the full range of how a product can impact on a person in the built environment. In the case of decorative coatings, this means that as well as looking at VOC emissions, we do a full review of the constituents of a formulation, to identify and assess any constituents that are known sensitisers or are associated with hazard statements. We set requirements around paint performance – looking at drying time, scrubbability, adhesion and stain removal – to ensure that a consumer will not be exposed to elements in the paint through cleaning or through poor paint performance. And in the case of VOC emissions, unlike many standard tests and certifications that only look at VOC emissions after a 10-day conditioning period, we set our first emissions criterion only 24 hours after painting, to address the needs of those with sensitive airways.

Paint ranges from companies such as True Value, Benjamin Moore, AkzoNobel, Carpoly, Nippon Paint, Samhwa, and Master Paints have voluntarily submitted to our third-party testing and have achieved our certification, demonstrating their commitment to providing for consumers with sensitive needs. And let’s not forget that supporting these consumers provides broader benefits to all. Research studies have shown that occupants in buildings with low VOC levels scored 61% higher on a critical thinking skills test than occupants in buildings with average VOC levels[4]. Cognitive test scores have been found to be 26.4% higher in high-performing, green-certified buildings[5]. So as well as pushing for better performance in your paint ranges, think about how to best convey that to your customers, and how to connect the contribution of your products to an overall healthier indoor environment.

Author details

Jennifer WhelanJennifer Whelan is Chief Operating Officer at Allergy Standards Ltd., a global certification and standards body that assesses products and services as being asthma & allergy friendly®, and empowers people to create the healthiest possible indoor environment through science (ASL Standards), education (iAIR Academy) and innovation (iAIR Institute)


[1] Commission Staff Working Document Impact Assessment Report (30 March 2022) Accompanying The Document Proposal For A Directive Of The European Parliament And Of The Council amending Directives 2005/29/EC and 2011/83/EU as regards empowering consumers for the green transition through better protection against unfair practices and better information ( 5 April 2023)

[2] Code of Federal Regulations, Title 16, Chapter I, Subchapter B, Part 260.6. (accessed 5 April 2023)

[3] Dorsey & Whitney LLP, FTC Seal of Disapproval for “Selfie” Certification Marks, 11 October 2011. (accessed 5 April 2023)



Key Words

certification, paint, air quality, indoor air quality, asthma, healthy, allergies, allergens, healthy home, hypoallergenic,  asthma & allergy friendly® Certification Program, Allergy Standards Ltd, Jennifer Whelan, VOCs, chemicals


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