My name is Bob Emptage of Imperial Paints, the US manufacturer of Lullaby Paints. We have been manufacturing in the UK, for the European market, since the 1980s. We are seeing a continuing growth, around the globe, for non-toxic paint that does not harm either the environment, or us as individuals.
I came with my family to set up the operation in South Carolina and we are very happy to be here. I am especially grateful to Irina for this opportunity to share the reason for our being here – our passion for improving the world for this and future generations.
What issues do people face when they buy and use paint in their houses?
The main issue is getting past the “green-washing” and marketing spin.
The EPA estimates that concentrations of many VOCs are up to ten times higher indoors than out, and acknowledges the associated danger. Unfortunately, they then allow more than ¼ of the paint in the can you buy to be those very harmful chemicals. The problem is they define “low-VOC” and “zero-VOC”, but they just don’t mean what you think. Even a standard that purports to be a definition of non-toxic paint (Green Seal GS-11) allows for more than 6 ounces of VOC in a gallon of paint. In the USA, manufacturers are allowed to call their paint “zero VOC” and still contain 5 grams per liter – 0.677 ounces per gallon. Some paints are low VOC until colored, but then use pigments containing VOCs and glycols. All Lullaby Paints contain ZERO VOCs and glycols, even when pigmented.
So it’s not as simple as it should be. We have been producing non-toxic paints completely free of VOCs, and other toxic chemicals, since 1988. We started making healthy, “green”, environmentally safe, non-toxic paint before it was fashionable – before most people realized there was a need. This is the standard all manufacturers should apply, but it will take the weight of consumer pressure to force them to do it.
What issues do paint manufacturers face when they produce paint?
Bob: Cost. The main problem faced is that it simply isn’t possible to take a traditional paint and “clean it up”. That route results in, at best, “safer” replacements and alternatives, but it still results in a paint with an environmental impact. The only way to produce a truly non-toxic paint is to start again, with a blank sheet. Unfortunately the development time required, the cost of changing manufacturing processes and equipment, and having to admit they’ve been getting it wrong for so long, are all strong drivers to “just keep doing what they’ve always done”.
How was the Lullaby non-toxic paint formulae created? How long did it take to come up with the Lullaby non-toxic formulae?
We originally developed our non-toxic paint formulae specifically for people with chemical intolerance conditions – a chemically-sensitive syndrome, or things like cancer treatments which often leave our natural defenses in tatters. The chief development chemist involved was motivated by discovering he was one of those unfortunate people suffering from a neurological condition called myalgic encephalomyelitis (“M.E.”) – he could be confined to bed for weeks at a time, just from being around traditional paints. Starting from scratch, with the full backing of a paint laboratory, it took six years to develop those original base formulae.
Could you tell us in a few words how paints are generally made? What type of main components should be present in typical paint?
Bob: In the simplest form, paints are made by dissolving the components that end up on your wall, in a solvent. This allows them to stay in a liquid form but, when exposed to the air, the solvents evaporate leaving just the precipitated solid parts. Even normal “water based” paints still use solvents to dissolve some components, as it’s by far the cheapest and easiest way to do it. That’s the simple version but it is also where most of the problems come from.
Not all paint manufacturers disclose the ingredients of their products. And if they do, it is very hard for a layperson to understand ingredients. Could you go over each ingredient of Lullaby Paints to help us understand what your non-toxic paint is made of?
- Acrylic Dispension
- Vinyl Acetate Dispensions
These are called the binders – the part of our non-toxic paint which makes it stick to the substrate, and creates the surface you finally see. They bind the other components of the paint together and are the most important ingredients in any formulation.
Our binders are acrylic and vinyl copolymers, as aqueous suspensions (not solutions) and guaranteed non-toxic. We are sometimes asked why we don’t just use the natural binders –some are animal products (out of the question), or take very long times (days!) to dry, or need solvents to function. So the short answer is that there simply are no adequate natural alternatives.
- Pigments (various)
Most pigments are also a source of VOCs and glycols, and some are toxic compounds themselves. We import our pigments from Europe, as we have been unable to find suitable alternatives in the USA. They are all non-toxic acrylic suspensions, so give excellent coverage, a full range of colors, and are even non-allergenic!
- Titanium Dioxide
The white pigment (also known as an opacifier) we use is titanium dioxide, which is 100% safe (safe enough to eat) and helps give our superb color coverage.
- Thickeners – Cellulosic and Polymeric
To make our non-toxic paint useable, it has to have the right characteristics as a liquid, as well as when dry. We do this with thickeners and builders, (like adding corn starch to a sauce or gravy) to achieve the right consistency. We use wood cellulose and non-toxic acrylic resins in Lullaby Paints.
- Synthetic Wax
Texture of the non-toxic paint finish is produced by “fillers”. We use only those natural mineral clays and limestone powders which have no toxicity or can even cause an allergic reaction. The wax adds “flatness” to some finishes.
- Dispersing Aids (various)
Some dry ingredients need to be “wetted” to add to the mix. These are a mild (and, of course, safe) soap, helping wet the surface of powders.
I have read that most traditional paints have biocides in them to cut down on bacteria, but I see you haven’t listed any in your non-toxic paint. How were you able to inhibit the growth of bacteria without the use of toxic paint biocides?
By definition a biocide kills and, whilst it’s intended to kill bacteria, it can also affect humans, especially the more vulnerable like babies and children. Consequently we will not use biocides in our products at all. We have a two-fold solution, requiring no biocides. Water is pre-treated to ensure it is clear before use in the product batch and we use a controlled blend of biostats.
Whilst a biocide kills, biostats only inhibit the growth of bacteria. Biostats are, in the concentration we use, 100% safe – safe enough that even ingestion would not cause harm.
This allows us to still guarantee unopened paint for at least one year. Even opened containers can last five years or more! It is a more difficult way to treat paint, which is why most manufacturers do not do this, but it’s the best solution and we will not compromise our product safety when there is a better way.
I understand that your paint is absolutely non-toxic. Does that mean that a child can be present in the room when the parent paints the room? Can a pregnant woman paint with Lullaby paint?
Absolutely yes! Of course I would always advise supervision of children so you only get the paint where you want it! And an expectant mother should be more worried not to over-stretch, or otherwise hurt themselves by painting – but there is no danger from the non-toxic paint whatsoever.
What do you do to make the paint industry less toxic?
We spend time educating, particularly those that don’t yet appreciate their need to stop polluting the indoor environments we inhabit. Ultimately only consumer pressure will change the industry. Our goal is to encourage socially and morally responsible products in any way we can. In the meantime we keep making the safe alternative so everyone has a choice, and the big manufacturers will end up having to change too.
You can reach us through any of the methods listed on our website at www.lullabypaints.com/contact, depending on what you want to ask us. We are always happy to answer questions so please do call us (at 866.587.3586) or send us an email to [email protected]
I look forward to talking with you.
Thank you, Irina. Keep up the great work!