Sham VOC-Free Claims
Four paint companies — Benjamin Moore & Co., Inc., ICP Construction Inc., YOLO Colorhouse, LLC, and Imperial Paints, LLC — allegedly mislead consumers through declarations that their products are free of emissions and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). In other words, VOC-Free.
The companies claim their paints do not emit VOCs and other chemicals, including during and immediately after application. Furthermore, marketing materials boast explicit safety claims surrounding pregnant women, children and other vulnerable populations. The problem, however, is that the companies are unable to support these claims.
The Federal Trade Commission further charges the companies with perpetuating the deception through marketing collateral. Specifically, the FTC alleges the companies provide retailers with marketing materials containing the misleading claims. Additionally, in its complaints against Benjamin Moore and ICP Construction, the FTC alleges the companies market their paint utilizing an internally accredited environmental seal. For clarification, the companies use a non-industry regulated seal. In other words, the seal is meaningless and the companies do not disclose this material fact to the public.
In the end, the Federal Trade Commission bars the companies from making unsubstantiated emission-free and VOC-free claims unless, at all times during application and thereafter, “both content in and emissions from their paints are actually zero, or emissions are at ‘trace’ levels, as defined in the orders.”
The final FTC orders prohibit the companies from making other unsupported health and environmental claims and require Benjamin Moore and ICP Construction to disclose that seals appearing in their promotional materials are their own designations.
FTC General Business Guidance
Due to the pervasive nature of the problem, the FTC provides additional guidance and clarifications. For example, in substantiating VOC-free claims and emission-free paint claims, companies must adhere to the following: 1) demonstrating the paint contains zero VOCs, and emits and produces zero chemicals at all times, beginning at application; or 2) alternatively, satisfying the “trace level of emission” test beginning at application or thereafter.
Finally, the FTC provides advice to marketers by stating that it may substantiate “zero VOC” claims with evidence demonstrating the paint has trace levels of emission six hours or less after application (and thereafter), and contains no substance that could cause material harm to the health of the average adult (or specific population, if marketed to that segment) under normal anticipated use.