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Green Seal Releases an Updated GS-11 Paint Standard

Paint is one of the biggest contributors to indoor air pollution due to volatile organic compounds (VOCs), chemicals that can have short- and long-term health effects. The EPA reports that concentrations of many VOCs can be up to ten times higher than outdoors. The California Air Resources Board severely restricts the air effects of consumer products like paint and the USGBC LEED program credits the use of “green” paints. With this in mind Green Seal has updated its environmental standards for paint into a new GS-11, creating a groundbreaking set of guidelines for paint manufacturers.


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The new standard works harder to protect indoor air quality by increasing the number of prohibited chemicals, reducing allowable VOC levels for base paint and colorants, requiring a more accurate test to measure VOCs and including expanded consumer education criteria.

The first edition of GS-11 prohibited 25 chemicals such as toluene, benzene and formaldehyde. But with the rapid growth of formulation technology, Green Seal wanted to expand this list to eliminate the possibility that a chemical could be used that was as harmful or potentially worse than the 25 chemicals on the list. By including a more comprehensive list of prohibited chemicals the standard removes these loopholes and ensures paint formulas are safer. Hazardous air pollutants and ozone-depleting compounds are prohibited, as are carcinogens, mutagens and reproductive toxins.

Low- or zero-VOC paints have experienced increased sales, but many shoppers are not aware that they can increase the VOC levels by adding colorants to the base paint. For most paints the darker the tint, the higher the VOC of the final blend. By adjusting the levels of VOCs allowed in base paint and including criteria for colorants, the new standard ensures that even a heavily tinted paint will still contain minimum VOCs.


Green Seal’s updated GS-11 is the first paint standard in the US to require reduced VOC levels of colorants. The effective date for these new requirements coincides with the new VOC limits for paint in the Suggested Control Measure approved by the California Air Resources Board effective January 2010.

Measurement of volatile organic compounds has historically been an imprecise process. The lower the VOC level, the more difficult it has been to get an accurate measure. Green Seal has incorporated a more direct method into the standard that produces a more accurate reading as the amount gets smaller. The test is estimated to be 10 times more effective and improves further as the VOC gets closer to zero. “I’m excited to see that Green Seal is moving away from EPA Method 24 and towards a direct measurement of VOCs for low VOC water-borne coatings" says Dane Jones, researcher at CalPoly, one of the leading experts at measuring VOCs.

Green Seal considers the life cycle of a product when developing standards. The use and disposal of a product is an important aspect of this cycle and efforts have been made to “close the loop” on paint. Under the new standard manufacturers are required to include instructions on the label for proper disposal or, preferably, reuse or recycling of leftover paint. Users must be advised in source reduction (buying just what is needed), proper use to reduce waste, and proper ventilation. Pre-consumer waste and leftover paint should be collected and donated, as markets for recycled paint continue to grow. Any paint that is kept out of the waste stream helps protect the environment and reduces the raw materials required to make new paint.

As consumers continue to demand safer, more sustainable products, this new standard provides a guideline to meet that demand. GS-11 can be downloaded at




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Green Seal Releases an Updated GS-11 Paint Standard:  Created on July 18th, 2008.  Last Modified on November 22nd, 2009


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About Dr. Arthur Weissman

Dr. Arthur Weissman

Arthur Weissman is President and CEO of Green Seal, the leading non-profit green cleaning certification organization. Dr. Weissman has over 25 years of experience in environmental policy, standards and enforcement. He joined Green Seal in 1993 as Vice President of Standards and Certification, becoming President and CEO in late 1996, and he served as Chair of the Global Ecolabelling Network from 1994 to 1997.

Prior to joining Green Seal, he was responsible for developing national policy and guidance for the Superfund program at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. He also served as a Congressional Science Fellow and worked for The Nature Conservancy in Connecticut.

He holds a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in physical geography and environmental science, a masters in natural resource management from Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and a bachelors degree from Harvard University.



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