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Paint and Kids Don’t Always Mix

2009 May 21

About the author: Brenda Reyes Tomassini joined EPA in 2002. She is a public affairs specialist in the San Juan, Puerto Rico office and also handles community relations for the Caribbean Environmental Protection Division.

It’s time for the dreaded task again: time to paint our house. As I discussed with my husband the possibility of hiring a contractor to paint the house exterior and for us to paint inside, our son’s asthma became a sudden concern. Paints, stains and varnishes release low level toxic emissions into the air for years after application . These toxic emissions stem from a variety of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which are a by-product of petrochemical-based solvents used in paints. Exposure to VOC’s in paint can trigger asthma attacks, eye, throat and nose irritation, respiratory problems, nausea, allergic skin reactions and dizziness among other symptoms. As one can imagine, painting our house would require extreme planning, including a temporary move.

EPA studies indicate that when people use and store products containing organic chemicals, they can expose themselves and others to very high pollutant levels. These elevated concentrations can persist in the air long after the activity is completed, thus causing the quality of indoor air to deteriorate.

Given our concerns, I decided to embark on an internet research of our alternatives for painting the house without affecting our son’s health. These is a list of the suggestions I found on various sites, including EPA’s

  • Low VOC or No VOC paints are an excellent alternative for painting the inside of our house.
  • Ventilation is very important while painting.
  • Warnings in the labels are extremely important since these are aimed at reducing exposure of the user.
  • Buying limited quantities might save us something more than money. By buying only what we need we won’t have to worry about the fumes and toxic materials emitted by these paints while being on storage. Gases can leak even when the containers are closed.
  • By using the right equipment-including masks–as with any other household project–we can reduce our exposure to hazardous substances while completing our task.

So before mixing that paint, take the necessary steps to protect your family.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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2 Responses leave one →
  1. Jeffrey permalink
    June 3, 2009

    Very timely post, Brenda. We just reached the painting phase of our home renovation. We’re using zero-VOC paints.

    One thing to watch for is that in some brands, the base paint may be zero VOC, but the materials they use to add color can be loaded with VOCs. So it’s important to be sure to buy a paint/tint system that’s totally zero VOC.

    It’s also important to read reviews. Not all paints are created equal, and I found some very good info out there.

  2. mythicpaint1 permalink
    December 12, 2014

    Very nice blog.

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