Paint manufacturers in hot water with FTC once again over VOC content

Stuart Kaplow posted an update at Green Building Law Update on a settlement between the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and four paint manufacturers over "unsubstantiated" claims regarding paint products marked as free of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Per California law, paints sold for residential application must meet stringent requirements regarding VOC content, and as is often the case, other jurisdictions have followed California's lead.

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The four companies, Benjamin Moore & Co., Inc., ICP Construction Inc., YOLO Colorhouse, LLC, and Imperial Paints, LLC, have agreed to consent orders that would bar them from making unqualified VOC free and emission free claims.

VOCs are chemical compounds that easily evaporate at room temperatures. All paints emit chemicals during the painting process and while drying. Some of these chemicals can be harmful to the environment and people, especially to sensitive groups such as babies and those suffering from asthma or allergies. Arguably there is no zero VOC paint, but that was not the basis of these complaints.

In these four complaints, the FTC charged each company with making “unsubstantiated” claims that their paints were free of emissions and/or that they contained no VOCs, without any qualification (e.g., after X number of hours). The FTC also charged the companies with facilitating deception by retailers who sold their paint. Additionally, in its complaints against Benjamin Moore and ICP Construction, the FTC alleged that the companies marketed their paint using “Green Promise” and “Eco Assurance” environmental seals, respectively, without disclosing to consumers that they had awarded the seal to their own products.

In the past, several paint manufacturers got busted over misleading claims regarding VOC content because while the white base paints free of any pigment could indeed meet ultra-low VOC requirements, the pigments themselves contained extremely high levels of VOCs. So a contractor trying to comply with state law might inadvertently violate that law if the customer requested any other color besides white.