Allergy Standards – Certifying Products for Healthier Interiors.
An Overview of the asthma & allergy friendly™ Certification for Specifiers
Allergy Standards Limited (ASL) is an independent, global certification company, that creates scientific standards for testing a wide range of products and services to determine their impact on improving indoor air quality. ASL has designed a series of unique testing protocols and suitability specifications for products to achieve in order to be CERTIFIED asthma & allergy friendly®.
ASL’s mission is to help people create the healthiest possible indoor environment through science, certification, education and innovation.
About Dr. John Ryan, Chief Strategy Officer at Allergy StandardsLtd (ASL)
Dr. Ryan is Chief Strategy Officer at Allergy Standards and represents the company with business partners, multinational clients and governments. He leads the company’s business service unit and is the point of contact for commercial partners and client companies. Dr. Ryan holds a PhD in Microbiology and has over 25 years’ experience working in the sustainability sector; he has worked around the world with both public and private sector clients. A published author and international speaker he represents the company at business, trade and sustainability events on a worldwide basis.
- How do product claims such as the asthma & allergy friendly® Certification Programs encourage innovation in the building industry?
It is estimated that we spend up to 90% of our time indoors. The asthma & allergy friendly® Certification Program is built around the concept of a “whole of building” approach to indoor air quality. Every product or building material brought into your environment can introduce Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) or allergens. The Certification Program challenges Industry to innovate and develop products that contribute to a healthier indoor environment. Over 60% of asthma and allergy sufferers find it difficult to choose appropriate products for their homes and work spaces. Our Certification Mark helps specifiers to make informed buying decisions on behalf for their customers, not only for those with sensitive airways, but for anyone concerned about their indoor environment.
- How does the asthma & allergy friendly® Certification Program compare against other product claims in the building products industry such as the GreenGuard Gold and FloorScore?
The asthma & allergy friendly® Certification Program has a chemical and VOC aspect to the testing similar to other programs, however the program is mainly concerned with air-borne allergens and irritants that may aggravate sensitive individuals. As such we move beyond other industry certifications and assess the “in-use” phase of a products life-cycle.
For example, our flooring standard examines how well allergens can be cleaned from the flooring. If the flooring traps allergens, then you may have a build up and get exposed to allergens even when cleaning the floor regularly. Our insulation standard tests the amount of fibre that is shed during the installation to ensure that a high amount of fibre isn’t collected in the building during this phase. We also carry out longer terms studies to determine the ability of the insulation to support mold growth.
- Can you talk us through the testing process; using Paint for example.
Why and how we certify paint – a Q&A
There is ever-increasing awareness of the chemicals we come into contact with every day, particularly if you or a member of your family has asthma or allergies. We created the asthma & allergy friendly® Certification Program to help you improve your indoor air environment by identifying products and services that can help to reduce allergens and create a healthier home environment.
Products like paint and cleaning sprays are – by their nature – composed of lots of different chemical compounds. But what is it that makes some paints better for the indoor environment than others, and where do we draw the line to decide to certify a paint as asthma & allergy friendly®? We hope that the questions below will clarify this. Let us know if you have more questions!
Why do we certify paints?
Our goal in the asthma & allergy friendly® Certification Program is to create a healthier indoor environment for you and your family, and so we look at all elements of the indoor air environment. Some of the chemicals in commonly used paints can cause allergic reactions, and many paints release fumes when they are applied.
We take a balanced approach in certifying products. It is not possible to make paint without using chemicals, and there are some chemicals which can have a negative effect but which are necessary for different reasons – more on that below. We want to identify paints that do not contain ingredients that are unnecessarily harmful. And we want to make sure that any necessary chemicals that can sometimes cause an allergic reaction are present at as low a level as is needed for them to function as intended.
What do we look for in paints?
We look at three things when we test paints.
The first is how many VOCs are emitted when the paint is applied. VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) are chemical compounds that easily become vapours or gases. When you can smell paints, adhesives, cleaners, insect repellents, new furniture, printer fluid etc., these smells are caused by VOCs being released. We paint a sample surface with the paint and place it in an environmentally controlled chamber, where we can measure all of the VOCs released over 14 days. We record the levels after 24, 48, and 336 hours, to make sure that throughout this time period the levels remain low.
Why do we do VOC tests?
Exposure to VOCs can cause irritation of the eyes and respiratory tract, headaches, dizziness, and other side-effects. These can impact more on people with sensitive respiratory systems, such as people with asthma and certain allergies. We want to make sure that VOC emissions are as low as possible. However, if you are someone with asthma or nasal allergies, it would still be better for you to avoid painting a room yourself, or spending too much time in a room directly after painting.
The second is the paint’s performance – this means that we want paints to act like paint. When you paint them on the wall, they should stick to the wall properly, they should dry in a reasonable time, it should be possible to scrub them in a reasonable way without them breaking down, and it should be possible to clean a reasonable level of stain from them. There are standardised tests for all of these things, and we make sure that these have been passed for each paint that we certify.
Why do we look at paint performance?
As paint companies try to improve their paint by removing harmful chemicals and making sure they emit fewer VOCs, it is important that the paint still performs like a paint. Once the paint is dry, when you touch the wall no chemicals should transfer to your fingers. And you should be able to wipe off any stains without also removing the paint onto your cloth.
3. Constituent review
The third is the make-up of the paint. We do a detailed chemical assessment of all the constituents in the paint, and what concentration they are present at. There are many chemicals which are known to irritate skin and/or eyes or to which certain people can be particularly sensitive. But if they are present at a suitably low level and used correctly this is unlikely to cause problems.
Why do we do a constituent review?
We want to make sure that any potentially irritant or sensitising chemicals are present as a low enough level so that the probability of a reaction to them is as low as possible.
For example, water-based paints were developed to respond to consumer demand for healthier paints with lower VOCs, as compared to traditional solvent-based paint which have higher VOCs. But solvents in paint have a positive side-effect, in that they prevent mold and bacteria from growing in the paint or on the wall after it is painted. When the solvents were removed to make a healthier paint, it was necessary to introduce a preservative to stop this growth.
But there are very few presevatives currently available to paint companies to carry out this function. Most of the options fall into a chemical family called izothiozolinones, and are usually referred to by their initials; MIT, CMIT, and BIT are among the most commonly used in paints. This type of preservative is called a biocide. The problem with these biocides is that even at low concentrations, some people can have an allergic reaction to them. But when one paint company tried to remove them entirely from a new paint line, it ended up having to recall all of the paint it sold. Consumers had found that there was an ammonia-like smell in some rooms after painting and this was causing headaches and other physical effects. This was a result of bacteria that had grown in the paint can because the preservative had been removed.
So it goes back to the balance that we talked about earlier – in order that there are healthier paint choices available, there is a need for a preservative that will stop bacteria growth which itself could cause side-effects such as headaches and nasty smells. When we are assessing paint for the asthma & allergy friendly® Certification Program, we make sure that any preservatives/biocides are present at the lowest possible level at which they are effective. We are also keeping an active eye on research in this area, in the hope that a new preservative will be developed that will be effective but will not be considered as an allergen.
Why is there an allergy warning on some paints?
In some jurisdictions, there are regulations to make sure that if a chemical compound is present in a paint that has been demonstrated to cause an allergic reaction, the chemical and its allergenic status must be stated on the label. This is to protect consumers, and so that consumers who know they are sensitive to that chemical can avoid it where possible. The European Union (EU) has these kinds of regulations in place, and it requires an allergy warning for the biocides mentioned above. Because these biocides are necessary to keep the paint from hosting bacterial growth, you might see an allergy warning on a paint that has been certified asthma & allergy friendly®.
If you are in a country outside the EU, these biocides may be present in the paint without a warning on the label, because many countries do not require a warning.
But in any case, if a paint has been certified asthma & allergy friendly®, you will know that we have checked that any biocides are present at a low level, and that only the minimum amount required has been used.
Are there paints that are definitely safe?
Unfortunately, no. Given the variability between people, and the variety of sensitivities and allergic responses that different people can have, it is simply not possible to say that a paint is safe for everyone. In the same way, it is not possible to say that peanuts are safe for everyone, or that honey is safe for everyone, or that crossing the road at a pedestrian crossing is safe for everyone. But there are definitely some paints that create a better indoor environment than others, because they emit lower VOCs in your home over time, they perform well as paints, and because any potentially sensitising chemicals are present at a low level. However, if you have had a reaction to VOCs in the past or you know that you are sensitive to some of the chemicals that are in paint, you should take sensible precautions. Avoid doing any painting yourself, or if you must paint make sure you are wearing suitable protective clothing and gloves, and that the area is well-ventilated.
- How important is Research and Development to a company seeking Certification and how do your scientists help them achieve the asthma & allergy friendly® Certification?
We challenge companies to innovate and create products that contribute to a healthier indoor environment. This often requires significant R&D efforts by the manufacturer. ASL offers services to partner with manufacturers in the R&D phase to ensure that products are suitable for those with sensitive airways. This is becoming increasingly important as it is estimated that by 2025 more than 50% of all Europeans will suffer from allergies. We partner with companies to provide landscape analysis, consultancy on performance testing or formulations, and collaborate to effectively market the health-based attributes of their product and the certification program. We draw on our experience not just in building materials, but also other industries such as consumer electronics and textiles to help consumers to create the best indoor air environment with the goal of avoiding any unnecessary allergy triggers in the home.
- How do companies use the Certification Mark in their marketing efforts and does it help them answering the consumer demand?
The asthma & allergy friendly® Certification Mark helps companies breaking through the clutter by differentiating themselves from the competition with the best quality products and supporting their claims with independent third-party Certification. A recent consumer survey shows that:
- 96% of “allergy-aware” consumers reported that they are sceptical of manufacturers allergy claims
- 88% of these are more likely to buy a product with an independent third-party seal of approval.
A recent report from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies in the US highlighted that homeowners want to take greater action to address healthy-home issues and indoor air quality. However, consumers face obstacles such as lack of trustworthy, clear, and actionable information. Our Certification Mark helps consumers make better buying decisions. Securing a third-party certification demonstrates to consumers that manufacturers are invested in producing high-quality products that are independently validated.
- When Architects and Interior Designers are working on a new development how vital is it that they take this Certification into consideration when sourcing the companies to work with on their projects?
Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the products they are bringing into their home from electronics to flooring or the paint they put on their walls. With modern home becoming more sealed it is vital that we reduce the pollutants we introduce into our home. Indoor air is over 5 times more polluted than outdoor air. Architects and interior designers need to consider the indoor environment not only from an aesthetic or sustainable perspective but also from a health-based one. They have a responsibility to provide high-quality, sustainable products that contribute to a healthier indoor environment. The asthma & allergy friendly® certification is a trusted mark that allows specifiers to rest assured that they are sourcing high quality, rigorously tested products from a company that has gone the extra mile to innovate and add value. With increasing number of individuals suffering from allergic disease, there is a moral obligation on specifiers to build the healthiest indoor environment with high-quality products. This will also have the added benefit of building trust with their consumer base and raising awareness for a growing problem.
- With people becoming a lot more aware of Asthma and Allergies in the home have you seen much of an increase in companies looking to get this Certification?
Asthma and allergies are now a worldwide health issue with an estimated 235 million people currently suffering from asthma World Health Organisation (WHO). These numbers are increasing and with it an awareness of the importance of a healthier indoor environment. The consumer-driven health and wellness movement has influenced high-end global manufacturers to develop healthier products for their consumers in order to answer this market opportunity.
The number of companies seeking asthma & allergy friendly® Certification is steadily increasing over the past few years and there are now over 200 asthma & allergy friendly® CERTIFIED products from global companies such as LG, 3M, Tarkett, True Value, Crown Paints, Dyson, Delonghi, Ingersoll Rand and Benjamin Moore.
 European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology
 Surveys from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) and Research Now of allergy-aware adults; 2018 100% USA Residents; Aged 18-65; 89% Female; 57% have children living at home.