Adhesive being tested in a chamber.
Figure. VOC Reductions for Key Chemicals of Concern
Poor indoor air quality is one of our nation’s greatest
health risks. Current medical data indicates that over 80 million Americans
suffer from debilitating asthma, allergies, respiratory disease and general
illness associated with indoor air pollution. These illnesses compromise
quality of life and cost our economy billions of dollars in lost productivity,
absenteeism, and medical care every year. Indoor pollution consists of airborne
levels of pollutants, primarily volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which come
from building materials and furnishings used to construct and remodel our homes
To address this indoor public health threat, sustainable building practices
have evolved to ensure that buildings are designed, constructed and maintained
in a productive and health-conscious manner. ‘Green Building’
principles focus on the reduction of environmental impacts associated with the
construction of a building. Sustainable goals have gone beyond the traditional
principle of reducing environmental impact to include improvement and
protection of occupant health, as well as productivity and enhancement of
indoor air quality. One of the most effective ways of achieving good indoor air
quality is to choose and use those products that contribute negligible levels
of VOCs into the air and to ensure that VOCs associated with the products are
free of human toxicity. With increased market demand for green, healthy
products for the indoor environment, adhesive manufacturers have retooled their
formulations over the past decade, moving from traditional solvent-based
adhesives to newer formulations made from soy or corn derivatives with
increased water solubility. And, most importantly, this has been done while
maintaining integrity of performance.
The United States Green Building Council’s LEED®
programs and other green construction programs award credits for using
low-emitting wet construction products, including coatings and adhesives. These
products have been identified as potential contributors of VOCs to the air.
Because these products are applied wet and require curing over an extended period
of time, they have also been known to cross-contaminate other building
materials and furnishings, resulting in longer-term interior contamination. A
traditional VOC control approach has been to limit adhesives’ VOC content.
While this approach may serve to reduce VOCs that contribute to industrial smog
and ozone formation in outdoor air, it does not give a clear picture of VOCs
that may result in indoor air. Techniques used to determine VOC content
(measured in grams of VOCs per liter of adhesive, g/L) are not sufficiently
sensitive to measure VOC emissions in the air at levels that may be irritating
or toxic to people. As a result, evaluating VOC emissions from adhesives has
become the preferred way of selecting environmentally friendly adhesives.
The most reliable and scientifically proven way to test for VOC emissions is to
use environmental chamber technology. This method allows a product to produce
emissions similar to the way a product would emit them when used in a home,
office, hospital or school construction project. The measured data is used to
determine levels of VOCs that will emit into the air following a prescribed
application procedure with a defined application rate. These levels of VOCs are
then compared to third-party certification program standards such as the
GREENGUARD Children & SchoolsSM
requires that emissions meet the following chemical criteria.
- TVOC < 220 µg/m3
- Formaldehyde < 13 ppb
- Total aldehydes < 50 ppb
- 4-phenylcyclohexene < odor threshold (6.5
- No carcinogens/toxins above accepted risk levels
- No odorants/irritants above acceptable levels
- No phthalates
Adhesive manufacturers continue to meet market demands, and many have
transformed to safer, low-emitting formulations. Data trends on adhesive
products in the GREENGUARD Certification ProgramSM
shown a 60% decrease in total VOC levels in the past five years. There has also
been a dramatic shift from petroleum-based formulations that result in typical
VOC emissions of styrene, vinyl cyclohexene and naphthalene to water-based
formulations with emissions of glycols, alcohols, and substituted hydrocarbons.
Formaldehyde, which was commonly used as a protective biocide, is being used
less. This shift in formulation has also resulted in a significant odor
reduction of the adhesives. Examples of specific VOC reductions for key
chemicals of concern (including odorants) are shown in the Figure.
Overall, the reduction in VOC emissions and odor related to adhesive usage is a
positive step forward for indoor air quality and the health and well-being of
building occupants. With the continued growth in green building programs and
need for environmentally preferred adhesives, market demand will encourage innovation
For more information, visit www.greenguard.org.
SIDEBAR: Demystifying Green Product Certification and Standards Programs
According to the McGraw-Hill Construction
SmartMarket Report 2008
, non-residential architectural and building
contracting firms agree that they must shift toward green building - including
the use of green building products to achieve energy efficiency, water
conservation, and indoor environmental quality (IEQ) goals - in order to remain
competitive. More than 50% of specifiers are incorporating green products into
their building projects. However, making wise product selections is
challenging, especially when confronted by myriad marketing claims, “green
washing” practices and a lack of credible sources for industry-independent,
The report identified eight green product standards and certification programs as
primary market movers:
- ENERGY STAR identifies efficient
products that reliably deliver energy savings and environmental
- WaterSense identifies high-performing,
water-efficient products and practices.
- Cradle to Cradle certifies products
based on lifecycle of materials used to construct a product, as well as the
overall lifecycle of the product.
- GREENGUARD Certification Program
certifies products and processes for their low chemical emissions and low toxicity.
- Green Seal certifies products and
practices for their low toxicity and overall environmental impact.
- GreenSpec Directory is a published
resource on environmentally preferable products.
- Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)
certifies wood products that come from forests managed to meet social, economic
and ecological needs.
- Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI)
certifies wood products that come from well-managed forests and responsible
A new report, Primary Green Product Standards and Certification
Programs: A Comparison
, has been issued by Aerias, an international
resource of indoor air quality and green construction information. This report
compares the objectives of these leading green product programs and details
program accreditations, product qualification processes, and qualified or
The report includes an explanation of first-, second- and third-party
certification programs, and describes how each green product program fits these
definitions. The market’s desire for clarity, transparency and validity will
increase the demand for green products meeting certifications based on sound
principles, valid standards, and third-party verification.
For more information, visit www.aerias.org.