American Formulating & Manufacturing (AFM)

Painting of a pelican done with AFM paints

Non-toxic paints and finishes

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In the 1970s, a California paint manufacturer named Nester Noe knew that something wasn’t right in his factory. He was getting sick, and so were his employees. After visiting the Environmental Health Center in Dallas, TX, a medical facility specializing in the relationship between health and environmental factors, Noe found out that he’d developed a sensitivity to paint chemicals. Rather than give up on his work, Noe decided to retool his paint formulas.

Decades later, Noe’s revamped company, American Formulating & Manufacturing (AFM), is still committed to making less-toxic paints under its Safecoat brand name.

Technical director Jay Watts says that what really makes AFM unique is that its paints are designed as sealers to help block offgassing from previously used toxic coatings.

The company also makes other Safecoat products, including including primer, stains, sealers, adhesives, caulks, and carpet cleaners.

Many of these products were formulated at the request of consumers, says Watts: “Our company philosophy is to make the least-toxic version possible of typical building products. We make one item that helps people, and then we have customers telling us,‘Wait a minute, there’s this other thing that’s poison,’” he says. “Then we go and fix that, too.”

By “poison,” Watts is referring to the fumes from conventional paints and finishes that are particularly harmful to growing children, fetuses, and people with chronic illnesses like asthma. Many contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), some of which cause dizziness, nausea, and respiratory irritation, according to the American Lung Association. Since long-term exposure has been linked to liver, kidney, and nerve damage, AFM ensures that Safecoat products are free of VOCs and toxins like formaldehyde, a known carcinogen and common paint preservative.

But while some conventional paint brands have zero-VOC offerings, AFM is even greener, says Watts: “Manufacturers can come out with products that say ‘zero VOC,’ but the products can still contain other pollutants. Our products are also non-HAP, which means no hazardous air pollutants.”

In addition, AFM offers a Safecoat Naturals line of paint, primer, thinner, oil wax wash, and penetrating oil, which is 100 percent organic plant- and mineral-based. For example, the Safecoat Naturals Pearl Lustre is made with natural oils such as flaxseed and thistle.

Over the past few years, individuals, companies, and corporations have made the conscious choice to use Safecoat products to improve indoor air quality. Gap used Safecoat paint and sealer for its corporate headquarters in San Francisco and San Bruno, and BMW has used Safecoat paint for a section of the trunk floor in some of its vehicles, reducing its formaldehyde off-gassing by more than 90 percent.