by Mike Elliott, Kettle River Canoes
As of September 9, 2010 the Government of Canada has prohibited paint manufacturers in the country from producing paints and varnishes with high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). As of September 9, 2012, manufacturers and retailers will be prohibited from selling these products in Canada – at least that’s the story.
Since the Government of Canada first announced their plans to impose strict regulations on the use of VOCs over five years ago, there has been considerable pressure from industries that depend on products containing VOCs. Can you imagine trying to paint a metal bridge with latex-based paint? It just doesn’t work.
In the world of canoe restoration, these restrictions have created a certain level of anxiety and confusion. Antique canoes are dried out and very brittle. In order to revitalize the old cedar, I mix double boiled linseed oil with turpentine and let it soak into the wood. I talked to the people at my local hardware store:
Q: Will I still be able to purchase double boiled linseed oil?
Q: Will I still be able to purchase turpentine (a volatile organic compound)?
A: Yes. (So far, so good)
Q: After I apply the oil/turpentine mixture to old cedar, can I apply the new water-borne varnish?
A: No. (Gulp!)
Q: In order to do my work, I require oil-based alkyd enamel paint and oil-based spar varnish. Will these still be available?
It seems I’m not the only one making a fuss about these regulations. Oil-based alkyd enamel paints are still available. The only difference is that the labels now state: “For Metal Use Only”. I simply ignore the new label and carry on as before.
In the case of oil-based spar varnish, it is still available because it is specifically made for use on wooden boats. I get the impression that it also has something to do with the concentration of VOCs in the varnish. Since paint thinner (a volatile organic compound) is still available (in one quart or one litre cans only), I simply adjust the amount of thinner required to get the varnish flowing and drying properly.
All of this is a big hassle that, to my mind, is totally unnecessary. If the Government of Canada was truly serious about tackling environmental issues, they would not be facilitating the Alberta Tar Sands the way they are. They would also take a leadership role in international talks around fossil fuel combustion and climate change. You can’t take 100-million-years-worth of sequestered carbon deposits, throw them into the atmosphere over a period of 100 years and expect life to go on as usual. However, that is a discussion for another time and place.