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Commercial Flooring News

Solvents Can Really Drive You Bonkers

Terry Guilford on why solvent-based products are bad for you
There are two VOC directives in Europe today. The Solvent Emission Directive (1999), to limit the amount of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCS) used in many products, came into force in 2007. Then in 2010 the Products Directive (2004) aimed at decorative paints (including floor finishes) also became operational.
So, is this legislation just an example of ‘big brother’ or is there a point to it? Well yes, in fact, on this occasion there is. As well as protecting public health it’s also there to protect the health of the planet, but for the purposes of this article I will focus purely on how it directly affects our industry and those that work within it.
Starting with the negative side, the more recently developed, less harmful, water-based finishes now used in our industry are more expensive to manufacture than their longer standing solvent-based counterparts.
The reason is that they contain more ingredients and have to be produced in a much cleaner environment. The research and development costs of creating these products also has to be recouped.
Floor sanding with water-based products also demands a far higher standard of work by the technician (even higher for wax oil) and the site conditions must be more precise than when using solvent-based products.
So… it’s a bit more work and a bit more expensive; bad news for some, but perhaps not such bad news for those already achieving a high standard of workmanship.
On the ‘plus’ side, one of the main benefits of the new(ish) legislation is in the improved health of those using the products, although some of the old-school floor sanders even fail to see this as a ‘plus side’, referring to it as ‘European interference’.
When the legislation was introduced, rather than embracing the new products and learning to use them, they decided they could fight the change by disparaging them to their clients, telling them that they were not as good as the old solvent-based products.
In the early days of water-based development there was an element of truth in this, as manufacturers struggled to get their products to perform with fewer solvents.
However, nowadays the products are extremely good (in fact better than their solvent-based counterparts) when applied by a competent contractor.
Yet there are still those who don’t want to make the change. These people are flouting the law, because although a homeowner can make the decision to use solvent-based products in their own home, a professional cannot. Yes, solvent-based lacquers are easier to use and cheaper, but isn’t health more important?
So, here we get down to the nitty gritty… are there actually genuine health benefits to the end user? As a contractor, and before changing over to water-based and wax oil products, I constantly suffered from colds and flu, but when I made the change it was like flicking a switch on in my body and I became much less susceptible to these infections.
Discussions with my GP at that time revealed that I wasn’t alone in suffering health problems from using solvents. He had several patients using them in their work who had had to give up their jobs and others who were suffering serious long term lung damage.
A small amount of internet research also shows that health problems are not only confined to lung issues but include skin damage, vital organ damage, issues with fertility and birth defects and even psychological problems (‘yes dear, that does explain it’).
Coming straight after the asbestos article in CFJ last month, maybe you think ‘Terry is on a rant’ and maybe you are right. However, there is one major difference here. Unlike the asbestos issue, in this case there are no cover-ups and no instances of ‘profit before people’.
Both the legislators and the manufacturers have done their bit here, so now it’s up to you. It’s your choice and your future… you decide.
Terry Guilford is technical director of The Ultimate Floor Sanding Co, a corporate member of the National Carpet Cleaners Association (NCCA).

This article has been reproduced from the Contract Flooring Journal website. You can find them at