FTC, paint cos in settlement over organic claims

The Federal Trade Commission said Thursday two major paint companies have agreed to settle charges that they misled consumers into believing that some of their paints are free of certain kinds of potentially harmful chemicals.

The Sherwin-Williams Co. and PPG Architectural Finishes Inc. agreed to settlements requiring them to stop claiming that certain kinds of their interior paints contain "zero" volatile organic compounds, the FTC said.

While this may be true for the uncolored "base" paints marketed by Sherwin-Williams as Dutch Boy Refresh and PPG as Pure Performance, it's not true for tinted versions of the paint, which typically has much higher levels of the compounds, and which consumers usually buy, the FTC said.

Volatile organic compounds easily evaporate at room temperatures and some of them can be harmful to humans and the environment. Historically, interior paints, which are the subject of the case against the two companies, have contained significant levels of volatile organic compounds.

The proposed settlement orders would bar the companies from claiming that their paints contain "zero volatile organic compounds," unless, after tinting, they have a volatile organic compounds level of zero grams per liter, or the companies can produce evidence that the paint contains no more than trace levels.

The companies also could have the option of prominently disclosing that the "zero volatile organic compounds" claims apply only to the base paint, and that depending on the consumer's color choice, the level of the compounds may rise, the FTC said.

Sherwin-Williams said in a statement that new regulations released earlier this month by the FTC spell out, for the first time, new procedures for describing volatile organic compounds in marketing information for paint.

Based on the new procedures, Sherwin-Williams said it's reviewing its labeling and other marketing information to make sure it's in compliance.

PPG said in a statement that its "zero volatile organic compound" claims apply only to its base paints and that it's working with the FTC to improve the clarity of the marketing of the paints in question.

The public has 30 days to submit comments on the settlement. After that, the FTC will decide whether or not to make them final.

Cleveland-based Sherwin-Williams is one of the largest coatings manufacturers in the world. It markets and sells product under the Sherwin-Williams, Dutch Boy, Krylon, Minwax, and Thompson's WaterSeal brands. Pittsburgh-based PPG is a subsidiary of PPG Industries Inc. and does business under its own name, as well as Pittsburgh Paints, Porter Paints, Pure Performance Paints and Olympic stain.

In afternoon trading, shares of Sherwin-Williams, which earlier in the day reported its third-quarter results, fell $11.15, or 7.4 percent, to $140.61. PPG shares fell $1.44 to $115.73.