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Following a public comment period, the Federal Trade Commission approved final orders settling charges that The Sherwin-Williams Co. and PPG Architectural Finishes, Inc made false and unsubstantiated claims that some of their paints contained zero volatile organic compounds (VOCs) after tinting.  Based on these cases, the FTC has issued a new enforcement policy statement regarding VOC-free claims for architectural coatings.

VOCs are carbon-containing compounds that easily evaporate at room temperatures.  Some VOCs can be harmful to human health and the environment.  Historically, interior paints, which are the subject of the FTC’s cases against Sherwin-Williams and PPG, have contained significant levels of VOCs.

In settling the FTC’s complaints, the two companies agreed to orders requiring them to stop making the allegedly deceptive claim that their Dutch Boy Refresh and Pure Performance interior paints, respectively, contain “zero” VOCs. According to the agency, while this may be true for uncolored “base” paints, it is not true for tinted paint, which typically has much higher levels of the compounds, and which consumers usually buy.

The enforcement policy statement clarifies that the operative portion of the first prong of the FTC’s “trace test” is “background level” and not “acknowledged trace” amount for VOCs in paint and coatings.  That is, when companies market their paints and coatings as “free of” VOCs, they must comply with the first prong of the agency’s Green Guides’ trace test by showing that “the level of the specified substance is no more than that which would be found” as a background level, and not the acknowledged trace amount.

The FTC also has a new blog post for businesses to help them understand how they can make environmental marketing claims for paint while complying with the FTC’s Green Guides.

The Commission vote approving the final order and a letter to a member of the public who commented on it was 3-0-2, with Commissioners Jon Leibowitz and Joshua D. Wright not participating.  The vote to issue the enforcement policy statement was 4-0-1, with Commissioner Leibowitz not participating.  (FTC File Nos. 112-3160 and 112-3160; the staff contact is Laura Kim, Bureau of Consumer Protection, 202-326-3734; see press release dated October 25, 2012.)

The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them.  To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357).  The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.  The FTC’s website provides free information on a variety of consumer topics. Like the FTC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to press releases for the latest FTC news and resources.

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