The Health Impact of Common Paints

You may not know that most paints and finishes are made from chemicals that are toxic and irritating to humans and animals. Here are just a few:

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s):

These substances readily release vapours at room temperature for years after application. Examples of VOC’s are xylene, epoxy, toluene, and ketones.

Acrylics, insecticides, fungicides, synthetic rubber, formaldehyde

Known irritants and possible carcinogens that off-gas indefinitely. The Environmental Protection Agency from the USA reports that the above substances cause eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches, loss of coordination, nausea; damage to the liver, kidney, and the central nervous system.
It has been found that average indoor air is 10 times more polluted than the air outside. When you combine this with the fact that people are spending more time inside than ever (~90%!) you realise what a problem this is.

Professional painters are a key risk group, as they are often occupationally exposed to solvents over prolonged periods.

A large paint roller with paint.

According to a report by The World Health Organisation: International Agency for Research on Cancer, there is a link between working as a professional painter and an increased risk of cancer of up to 20%, with the increased risk of lung cancer 40%. Other notable risk groups are small children and the elderly. Many recent studies have shown a connection between the alarming rise in respiratory ailments amongst young children such as asthma over the last 10-15 years and pollutant presence in indoor air.

For more information about indoor air quality issues, search the internet for the terms “Sick Building Syndrome” and “Building Related Illness”, or visit the EPA Website.

Environmental Impact of Common Paints

Most common paint ingredients come from petrochemicals: including solvents, fillers, pigments, and drying agents.
The paint production process results in large amounts of toxic waste – up to 10 cans of waste for each can of paint produced.
VOC’s released from paint production and use are hazardous environmental pollutants, responsible for smog amounts nearly as large as those created by all automobile exhaust.

What are the Alternatives?

The best alternatives are natural and mineral paints, or traditional limewashes. The raw ingredients of natural paints are primarily agricultural origin and hence are renewable and reduce Carbon emissions. They are safer to transport and are readily biodegradable. The manufacturing process produces no hazardous waste products. In fact, the by-products of manufacture are composted. The clean up from a painting job can be tipped safely into the garden. They still contain VOC’s but in low concentrations that are within recommended safety limits. Learn more about paint options and what to look for with our free online CPD Breathable Paints and Maintenance.

Mineral paints are completely non-toxic, with no VOC’s, and are also the most durable paints on the market today. This means that they are the healthiest paints available and they are also technically the best in terms of performance. Find out more about mineral paints and how they work.

The information provided by Cornish Lime is for informational purposes only and does not amount to a specification. Every project is unique, so please consult a professional before undertaking a project. Use of this site and reliance on any information on the site is solely at your own risk.

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