Episode 125: Non-Toxic Paints for Green Homes with Mythic Paint

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GreenTalk Radio Host Sean Daily discusses safe, environmentally friendly paints for residential use with Rocky Prior, President and Chief Scientific Officer of Mythic Paint.

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Sean Daily: Hi and welcome to GreenTalk, a pod cast series from Greenlivingideas.com.  GreenTalk helps listeners in their efforts to lead more eco-friendly lifestyles through interviews with top vendors, authors, and experts from around the world.  We discuss the critical issues facing the global environment today as well as the technologies, products, and practices that you can employ to go greener in every area of your life.

Sean Daily: Hey everybody welcome to another episode of GreenTalk radio, this is Sean Daily, CEO of Greenlivingideas.com, always happy to be here with you. And today we are going to be talking about a topic we have talked on the program before about which is environmentally friendly paints, non-toxic paints, all things related to painting in green building which is a very important topic within the umbrella of green living and today my guest to talk on that topic is Rocky Prior.  He is President and Chief Scientific Officer of Mythic Paints.  Rocky, welcome to the program.

Rocky Prior: Thanks for having me Sean.

Sean Daily: It’s our pleasure and I guess, tell me the story, I have heard quite a bit about Mythic Paints lately and I wanted to here sort of from you, straight from the top, tell us the story of the company and how it got started.

Rocky Prior: Sure, absolutely.  The brand of product that we carry is Mythic Paint, but the name of our company is Southern Diversified Products and we are called that because we started in affiliation with the University of Southern Mississippi.  Their Polymer Science department in Hattiesburg, Mississippi is a world renowned polymer research center and there they work on green technologies and state of the art polymer developments.  And one of those polymer developments led one of the chief scientists there to think about the application in paint and coatings. And so he started a company and I am one of the four founders of that company, Southern Diversified Products.  Our offices are actually located across the street from the university and we have a very strong partnership with the university for product development.  That led to some breakthrough products that allowed us to actually make high performance architectural coatings that don’t have any toxic materials in them.

Sean Daily: Ok, and so this is, so, give a sort of compare and contrast, we hear a lot about low-VOC, no VOC, and then the toxicity factor.  Is that really what we are talking about when we’re talking about the volatile organic compounds?  Is that sort of the summation of the toxicity that exists in most standard paints?

Rocky Prior: It’s a large portion of it. So, when we talk about VOCs or volatile organic compounds, almost all coatings sold today have those materials in them and typically a consumer would know those by the trade name of solvents. And typically latex paints contain solvents to improve performance, improve film formation, and so on.  They have been used for years and another word that is typically used in the coatings industry for those is temporary plasticizers, because they are meant to essentially provide elasticity to the film while it is drying.  And that new paint smell that you smell are the solvents coming out of the film.  Unfortunately, the solvents contribute to ground level ozone and that is why they are regulated heavily by the Environmental Protection Agency.  But, no one has really been thinking about the contribution of those solvents, negative contribution, to health and that’s where our company comes in.  Most of the solvents in coatings today are carcinogenic or cause other health related issues and so we don’t use any of those materials.  But, you can also have materials in your paint that are not VOCs that are also carcinogens.  For example, there is a pigment called crystalline silica that is widely used in the coatings industry.  If that material is sanded or put into a very fine mist form and you breathe it in it’s a suspected carcinogen as well.  So, it doesn’t have to be a volatile organic compound to be a carcinogen.  What we have done is removed all of those materials from our paint and coatings.

Sean Daily: Okay, that’s interesting. So basically, is it, would be it fair to say or characterize Mythic Paints as going a little bit father than the average paint company with regards to that?  I mean is, are other companies actually removing all the toxins like that?  Is that pretty common in the industry these days or does that sort of make you guys special?

Rocky Prior:  You know, I think the trend in the entire industry is towards lower VOC. Now, when we use the term low VOC, unfortunately there is no real rule of thumb for that.  Somebody could use 50 grams per liter, someone else could have 150 grams per liter and they call that low-VOC.

Sean Daily: There is no standard, industry standards around that? No sort of uh…

Rocky Prior: There isn’t. There is a legislation that says it has to be below a certain level, but there’s no standards around the terminology for low and so therefore you are really not quite sure what you are getting. And the other thing is that the typical approach used by the coatings industry to get to low or zero VOC is to take existing paint formulations and just remove the volatile organic compounds and replace them with something.  So, it’s kind of a remove and replace type of formulation approach.  Whereas we started really with a blank sheet of paper, started from the ground up, so we built our system a little differently.  The trade off in the past has always been, I mean, virtually every paint company has a low or zero VOC paint and the issue with those is that they, how they lack in performance.  That is why they are not their mainstream product, they are always a subset of their product.  So, all of the major brands will have a low or zero VOC paint, but you will notice that it is not sold as their first line paint, and that is because it lacks in performance.  What our company set out to do and was successful in accomplishing was to remove the VOCs and toxic materials, but maintain or exceed the performance of  paints that have those materials in them.  So that, you know, you will find other zero VOC paints, you will find other paints classified as non-toxic, for example milk paint a casein based paint.  But that paint really completely lacks any type of durability.  So we have combined the attributes of zero VOC, non-toxic, but the high performance attribute.  So we give you all of the scrub durability, coverage durability, and so on that you would find in a premium product, like ours, but without any of the off -gassing.  And what that means to you as a consumer immediately is a very, very low odor product. When you put it on the wall you will notice a huge difference in odor, as soon as the product dries there is no odor because there is no off-gassing.  The solvents that are used in paint coatings can off-gas for a long period of time. There are studies that show that that material off-gasses maybe 50% in the first year and then for years after that. So, your exposure to those solvents hangs around awhile.  In case the listeners are wondering, you know, the terminology we use is grams per liter in the industry.  So, we’ll say low-VOC is 50 grams per liter and the listener might not understand.  You know, a gram per liter, to put that in layman’s terms, a nickel that you would spend at the store weighs 5 grams, exactly.  So if you think about the weight of 10 nickels in solvent. That’s how much solvent is in a liter of paint.  As we know there are almost 4 liters in a gallon, so if you take that analogy on out for 50 gram per liter paint, you would have 10 times 4, you would have 40 nickels in weight, so you can imagine how heavy that is, in solvent, so you can imagine how heavy that is in solvent, in a low VOC paint that’s going to come out into the air that you breathe. So it’s a significant quantity even in the low-VOC coatings that are available today.

Sean Daily: I appreciate that comparison because that does make it a little more real.  You hear a lot about these things and it’s kind of hard to envision it unless you are really into dry and wet measurements and things. You remember your schooling.

Rocky Prior: Exactly, exactly,

Sean Daily: Great, well, we’re going to take a quick break.  I am talking with Rocky Prior with Mythic Paint, Mythic Paints and you can find them online at www.mythicpaint.com and we will be right back on GreenTalk Radio.  Hang on everybody.

Sean Daily: Okay and we are back on GreenTalk Radio.  We are talking on environmentally friendly and non-toxic paints today.  My guest is Rocky Prior, he is the President and Chief Scientific Officer of Mythic Paints at mythicpaint.com. Rocky, we were talking before the break about the basics of what exactly, both what Mythic Paint does, as well as low-VOC and what VOCs in paints are and what the issues are in terms of environmental health and human health.  I am curious to hear a little bit about, I notice that you got started on this sort of at a time when this was off the radar screen, I think, for most people, even in the building industry back in 1991.  Can you tell me a little about why you were so interested in low-VOCs paints and that area when it was still kind of unknown?

Rocky Prior: Sure, I come by it honestly.  I was working for another large coatings company at the time and they had a mandate to reduce VOCs in their coatings, so I actually worked on a project to reduce the VOCs down to zero in coatings.  As I was working on that we were expecting our second child and after she was born she was diagnosed with childhood asthma and also allergies and I recognized, I like to paint at home because it’s the business I was in.  But I could never paint her room and have her sleep in it for quite a long time because of the off-gassing that was occurring and so I felt like you know there’s really, there has to be a way to get the performance in these coatings and reduce the VOCs.  So I worked in that area, my father has also been involved in environmental affairs.  He was Director of Environmental Affairs for a very large chemical company and was always letting me know the importance of reducing emissions and pollutants.  In face his license plate on his car was For Clean Air, so I have some things in my background to combine with my chemistry degree that said, you know, this has to be possible.  And it benefit’s a lot of people, as well as the environment simultaneously.

Sean Daily:  That’s a neat story, I appreciate you sharing that and it’s interesting to me, I have interviewed literally hundreds of guests on this program and on others that I have done and it’s interesting especially with regards to the environmental movement and things related to it that I would say almost literally 7-8 times out of 10 there is, children are involved somehow in the stories of people who founded these companies and are behind them.  So, very interesting.  I’m curious, just switching gears a little bit here.  I want to go back you touched on the topic of durability in these types of paints which is something that comes up quite a bit when we are talking about anything that is an alternative type of product, paints or anything else.  You know, the performance, how is the performance being effected, is it being effected and that’s not even counting price, which maybe we can get to that a little bit later.  But just durability in paints I know that with some of the low-VOC no VOC that durability has been called into question in some cases.  I have sort of a two part question here.  How do we test for durability in paints and how do Mythic’s paints stand up in terms of a durability as a non-toxic paint.

Rocky Prior: Sure, great questions.  When we are talking about durability inside, for your walls, typically people want the walls to be able to remove stains easily like around switch plates and in kids rooms.  And to do so you would scrub the wall with a soap solution and in the laboratory setting all coatings companies test for durability the same way.  They use something called ASTM scrub resistance method and we use a special machine, it has a brush on it and some abrasive scrub solution and we put that on our dried coating which is a highly specified test panel where every coating is applied at the same thickness and so on so that the test is always uniform and we run the test until the scrub brush actually literally removes the coating from the film and then you record the number of cycles that that took.  The higher the number the better, of course. And in both our internal testing as well as independent laboratory testing we have not found a product that can beat us in that test.  That includes high-VOC coating and low-VOC coatings.  So, it’s a well recognized test, it’s the same test that’s run by Consumer Reports and all of the coatings companies that are out there.

Sean Daily: Ok, well, ok so then, in that case I should ask are you saying that there is basically no sacrifices that you have to make in order to sort of have a healthier environment in regards to painting?

Rocky Prior: That’s correct, that’s what we are saying.

Sean Daily: Okay, interesting, okay well then let me ask the last question which I asked about price because that would be, that’s a big issue right now with cost of going green.  We’re seeing it in the news, we’re seeing it on TV.  A large number of the visitors that we have to the greenlivingideas.com website are interested, or have concerns about how much more does it cost.  Of course it’s industry dependent.  Can you speak to that with regards to your industry and what the price premium if any is that people are paying to use these types of products?

Rocky Prior: Sure in this particular place we are branded as a painting product because of our performance, not because of the fact that we’re green.  That puts us right in the middle of other premium products and what I mean by that is if you go to your independent paint store that you would know in town, it could be something like a Bob’s Paint and Wallpaper or an Ace or a True Value or somebody who carries independent brands of paint and premium brands of paint, you’ll find that we are priced very competitively.  We are not an inexpensive product, though, again that’s because we’ve built the extra performance in the product.  The other thing to mention about our paints is that they are available in any color, we can custom color match to any color and we didn’t talk on this at all, but we should touch on it very briefly.  Colorants that are used in paints typically contain very high levels of VOC, in fact it’s not uncommon at all to double the amount of VOCs in paint just from tinting them and our colorants do not have VOCs either.  So we can give you any color, including a competitor color in a healthy solution.

Sean Daily: Good, good.  Well, we’re going to take one more break here and then we’ll be back.  I have a few more questions for you Rocky.  I want to talk about certifications and a few other things. But we’ll be right back on GreenTalk Radio.  We’re going to get a quick word from our sponsor.  Thanks everybody.

Sean Daily: And we are back on GreenTalk Radio.  Welcome back everyone.  We have been talking with Rocky Prior, who is the President and Chief Scientific Officer of Mythic Paints.  I love that title, by the way, Chief Scientific Office, it’s like Spock on Star Trek or something.  Beam me up.

Rocky Prior: Thank you, thank you.

Sean Daily: And I should also mention that Mythic Paints, you can find them online at www.mythicpaint.com.  Rocky we were talking before the last break about, you know, sort of having a healthy environment, durability in paints.  I wanted to switch gears a little bit to talk about certifications.  I notice that Mythic Paints doesn’t have any green seals, or green logo certifications attached to your brand  Can you tell me about that? That’s a little unusual.

Rocky Prior: Yeah, we actually opted not to go that route.  We have a sister product in the market called American Pride Paint, which has those certifications on it.  But we opted not to with Mythic, and the reason why is that the performance standards for the green, you know the different green approvals that are out there are traditionally very, very low.  The bar is low to allow a lot of green paints to get that certification and what we found with our consumer research is that if we put that seal on our Mythic can that the consumer automatically assumes parity with the other green paint that is out there with that same seal.

Sean Daily: I see.

Rocky Prior: We really hurt ourselves from a performance standpoint because we’re still not getting our message across  So the way we market and sell Mythic is very, very different from the typical green paint.  We sell it based on it’s performance.  That’s how we start selling it.  We sell it as if you’re looking for a great paint this is it.  Oh, by the way, it’s non-toxic, it’s safe for pets, it’s safe for the earth, it’s safe for humans.  So, it’s a little different approach.

Sean Daily: Yup, so, I had gotten, we had, the reason we found out about Mythic was from one of our website visitors, believe it or not, who said you guys really need to be talking to Mythic Paint.  So we said, oh, let’s check these guys out.  So we have researched you guys quite a bit before bringing you on the program.  One of the things I had read in a press release was that you are currently the fastest growing paint company in the country.  Is that correct?

Rocky Prior: Yes, we are.

Sean Daily: Yeah, well congratulations on that.

Rocky Prior: Thank you very much.

Sean Daily: I’m curious, I mean that sort of speaks outside of Mythic, that this is such a growing industry.  What do you think that this is really saying about the publics attitude about healthy homes? I mean are we seeing a change?

Rocky Prior: Yeah, I think that people have always been concerned about creating a healthy environment.  But, certainly the public is becoming more and more educated about everything from flooring choices to wall coverings, to paints about what they are actually having in their homes.  That, you know, the homes are built tighter today, they are very air tight.  We need to make sure that we are using materials that don’t off-gas a lot of material negatively into the air.  So, I think that that is the key driver for it, but I would also say that we’ve just touched a nerve.  That as the public becomes more and more educated, they see a product like Mythic and they just naturally migrate towards it.  We have been very pleased with our success and the fact that the message is resonating.

Sean Daily:  How are you guys selling your products? Are you selling through standard paint stores or are you selling direct or what’s the model there?

Rocky Prior: We sell through independent paint channel, which is some of the stores I mentioned.  Ace Hardwares, True Values, independent paint stores.  Most towns have their own special independent store there.  We are actively pursuing and closing on those account and putting our product in.  If we don’t have the paint available in your city yet, you  can find that out at Mythic Paint.com by putting in your zip code and it will show you if there is a dealer in your area yet.  If we don’t have one yet you can purchase the paint online, again tinted to any color.  It’s a very simple process.  If you do have a dealer in your area, though, the website will not allow you to purchase paint.  It will send you to that dealer, of course because we really want to help the environment, not be shipping paint any further than we have to and also support our local retailer.

Sean Daily: Sounds great. So, Rocky we’re about out of time for today’s program.  I wanted to offer you an opportunity to leave our listeners today with some thoughts.  Maybe any tips or advice you have in terms of building a healthy home environment from your experience and any sort of final thoughts about things you want people to know about what Mythic does.

Rocky Prior: Sure, appreciate that very much, appreciate the opportunity to be on your program.  My advice would be to use the internet and do your research before you go buy the products that you are going to be using inside of your home.  I think that would apply to any type of product that you are going to use and we think that you’ll be pleasantly surprised, that the more you scratch the surface of our company, I think the more excited you’ll be about the product that we have developed and even down to the way that we manufacture it in a zero discharge facility.  So, we care about human health and safety and the environment.  We really appreciate the support that we have been getting from everybody out there.

Sean Daily: Great, well, we wish you much continued success with Mythic Paint and we love to see companies like yours doing well because it really speaks to the whole industry.  I think  to increase home environment, which is so critical, as we all know.  So, and I want to make one cross reference for anyone listening in today.  If you are interested in this topic go on the greenlivingideas.com website and go under the topics menu under green building and remodeling, we have a whole section dedicated to painting as well as just about every other green building topic.  So, we certainly encourage you to go there.  I thank everyone for listening today and I want to thank my guest, Rocky Prior.  Again, he is the President and Chief Scientific Officer of Mythic Paint and they are online at www.mythicpaint.com . Rocky, thanks again.

Rocky Prior: Thank you, Sean.

Sean Daily: Thanks as always to everyone listening in today.  Remember for more free on demand pod casts, articles, videos, and other information related to living a greener lifestyle visit our website at www.greenlivingideas.com.  We’d also love to hear your comments, feedback, and questions.  Send us an email at [email protected]