Paint and Kids Don’t Always Mix

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.