Breathe Easy With Eco-Friendly Paint
Many people complain of dizziness, nausea, and irritation of the eyes and throat when living or working in newly painted areas. Less well known is the connection that fumes from paint have to heart, lung, and kidney damage. In fact, the National Cancer Institute completed a study in 2002 that showed a significant increase in cancer risk to those working in painting trades. With this in mind, how can you choose the best paint option that is both healthier and more eco-friendly?
The smell emitted by paint products is caused by Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) that are found in most paints and stains. These chemicals evaporate at room temperature, giving off gases for periods of a few days to a few weeks. Oil-based paints contain the highest percentage of VOCs at 40% to 60% of total volume. The VOCs make up the solvents that break up and scatter the other ingredients. Water-based paints contain only 5% – 10% VOCs, but can still emit enough gas to sicken. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offers a low-VOC designation, which can be applied to any oil-based product with a maximum VOC level of 380 gm/l (250 gm/l for water-based alternatives). Some companies offer paints with VOC counts that are lower still, ranging from 0-100 gm/l.
Fear of mildew and mold increased the popularity of paints containing fungicides, and manufacturers have long used biocides to preserve the quality of their products. However, these also have health repercussions, as they are highly toxic and are released into the air. Some tests have found them in the environment as long as five years after the paint was applied. The chemicals that create colors have also increased the toxicity of indoor air.
Alternatives are available from a number of companies that specialize in paint with minimal VOCs, fungicides, biocides, and coloring agents. Natural paints made from elements found in citrus, balsam, and some minerals create vivid color without as many harmful side effects. Though they do contain plant-based VOCs, they don’t have the fungicides and biocides, eliminating a major source of concern. Milk paints, popular with the earliest Americans, offer another reduced chemical choice. So named for the main ingredient, a milk protein called casein, milk paints offer a unique look without the risks.
Those that prefer the best of both traditional paints and natural/milk paints can find latex products with low levels of biocides and VOCs. Latex and acrylic options are preferable to any oil or solvent based choice.
Instead of paint, you may be considering using a wood stain. However, stains have all of the same issues as paints, with the extra disadvantage of high levels of pesticides and chemical quick-driers. Water based stains and sealers are safer, and those made of beeswax or carnauba are the best of a bad selection. Darker stains contain less chemicals than lighter stains, as the lighter ones must have additional protection against ultraviolet rays. Regardless of the type used, the painting environment should be kept well ventilated, and people should avoid the area as much as possible for the first few days.
So, if you want to make the healthiest and most eco-friendly paint choice, look for natural milk paints or latex based paints with low levels of biocides and VOCs. Your body and the environment will thank you.