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Commercial Flooring News

Stamping Down On VOCs

Richard Harris, marketing manager at F Ball and Co reacts to the article in CFJ by Alan Best in which he suggests how much the flooring industry is responsible for VOCs:

HAVING just returned from a ‘rip-roaring’ performance by the Monty Python team at the O2 Arena I sat down to read my latest copy of CFJ.
Turning to page 10 of the July issue, I was delighted to see, what I initially thought was a new sketch from the Pythons, under the humorous title: ‘VOCs in Buildings Can Kill You!’ I grabbed my reading glasses fully expecting a Pythonesque foot of VOCs to fall from the sky and squash us all!
Imagine my disappointment when I read on to discover that the piece was not, in fact, the latest script from Messrs Cleese, Palin, Idle et al, but a rather ill-informed article, peddling the world-weary mantra that we are all doomed because manufacturers of flooring materials are loading their products with all sorts of ‘nasties’. The article was attributed to Alan Best, ‘sustainability consultant’.
To quote John Cleese: I wish to make a complaint!
And also set the record straight.
In a sort ‘what have the Romans ever done for us?’ way of putting it:
Manufacturers of floorcoverings and floor preparation products have been working tirelessly for many years, with their legions of chemists and technicians and in conjunction with some of the largest chemical manufacturers in the world, to ensure that indoor air quality is of the highest quality. The flooring industry leads the way in this field.
Mr Best appears to show an innate lack of knowledge about our industry. Where do I begin? For starters Formaldehyde, Acetaldehyde, Phenol and Glycol Ethers (mentioned in the article) are not used in floor preparation products.
Mr Best also highlights VOC levels that can be attributed to some paints and paint strippers!

What this has to do with flooring, I’m not sure. But, in any case, to try to compare the paint industry with our industry is, as Graham Chapman would have put it, ‘silly’.
In paint, low VOC is defined by product having less than 30 grams per litre of VOCs contained in the product. In flooring adhesives low VOC is defined as emitting less than 100 micograms of volatile material per cubic metre of air.
I know all this sounds like technical baloney, but look at it like this. If you took an Olympic-sized swimming pool and filled it with paint, there could be 75 tonnes of VOCs in there and the paint could still be classed as low VOC.
For an ordinary flooring adhesive, for example our Styccobond F41, there would only be 2.5 tonnes of VOCs (30 times less). So why is Mr Best hectoring and comparing us to the paint industry?
Similarly, why is he lecturing us about the plywood and chipboard industry, where he says these toxic chemicals are used?
In both cases, I would have thought he would be better served by trying to get his messages heard through publications targeted at these industries or, better still, by getting straight on the phone to the HSE to try and have such products banned if they are, as he makes out, such an imminent threat to people’s health.
Also, what on earth has heating and ventilation systems got to do with fitting floorcoverings?
Even more bizarre, and perhaps even beyond the surreal thinking of Monty Python, is Mr Best trying to link people smoking in their own homes as anything to do with the flooring industry.
It appears to me that Mr Best is trying to scaremonger the flooring industry, blaming us for the woes of other trades.
Rather than pursue us on the vanishingly-small, ephemeral quantities of VOCs in flooring products, I can suggest much better areas for his obviously well intentioned rhetoric.
What about carbon monoxide emissions from faulty boilers, which the NHS says cause around 40 deaths a year, or the continuing health and safety issues on building sites?
We only have to look at the news item on page 18 of the same issue of CFJ, which refers to how three workers were injured by a collapsing floor, to see there are more immediate and very real issues that need tackling in relation to health and safety. Surely, either of these, for example, would have been a better cause celebre for him to pursue.
To my knowledge no one has died of issues relating to VOCs in the building environment. This is bad science, Mr Best.
In summary, I think this article should have been better researched and written by a scientist, qualified to give us the facts. In which case, I suspect it would have a very different tone, with an emphasis on congratulating the flooring industry on the progress it has made in reducing VOC emissions over many years.
And now for something completely different….

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