VOC stands for volatile organic compound. Volatile organic compounds are organic compounds that easily become vapors or gases. They are released from burning fuels, like gasoline, wood or natural gas, and from glues, and solvents, which are a key component in paint. VOCs increase the quality of the paint and the durability of its finish.
The effects of volatile organic compounds on health vary depending on the compound, and range from being highly toxic to having no known health effects. The most hazardous are benzene, formaldehyde, toluene, or perchloroethylene, which are known carcinogens.
Walls painted with VOC-containing paint will continue to give off a breathable gas for years to come. (Off-gassing) In addition, VOC containing paints require that the use of high VOC containing solvents be used for the clean up and washing of painting tools. This creates an environmental problem as well as a health hazard.
Exposure to VOCs in paint can trigger asthma attacks, eye irritation, respiratory problems, nausea and dizziness among other symptoms in sensitive individuals. Prolonged exposure has been linked to kidney and liver disease and even cancer. Some studies even claim that indoor air is one of the leading health hazards to humans. These VOC emissions are largely responsible for this hazardous, toxic air.
Low VOC Paint
Until recently, VOCs were considered necessary for quality paint. Families would have to move out of their homes for repainting to avoid these nauseous fumes. They also leave an obnoxious odor. This gave rise to the demand for healthier choices for paint, in addition to governmental regulation of the paint industry. Today alternative manufacturing technologies have managed to create high-quality, long lasting low VOC oil based paints.
VOC levels are expressed in pounds per gallon (lbs/gal) or grams per liter (g/L). The EPA has the VOC content standard of 250 g/L for latex paints or 380 g/L for oil based paint. The performance and life of these low VOC paints is comparable to the hazardous, high VOC level paints of yesterday.
It is important to note that although paint may be labeled low VOC, it may be due to it’s being a modified formula. Low VOC paints use water as a carrier instead of petroleum based solvents. The level of toxic gas emissions is therefore significantly lower. In addition, these paints also are lower in levels of heavy metals and formaldehyde.
The amount of VOCs is listed on the paint can or in the MSDS. Usually with any reputable paint manufacturer, if they list the paint as low VOC, it meets the voluntary “Green Seal” standard of less than 50 g/L for flat sheen or 150 g/L for non-flat sheen.
It’s very important that you check the label to be sure because this is the only way to be sure. If you are especially allergic or sensitive, buy paint that has less than 25 g/L of VOCs. Even low VOC paint will produce an odor until it dries.
Any paint can be labeled VOC Free or Zero VOC if it has 5 g/L or less of VOCs. It should be noted that these paints may still use dyes and/or fungicides which may contain some VOCs. The addition of these low levels of VOCs usually brings the level up to 10 g/L.
Paints made from naturally occurring ingredients like water, plant oils and dyes, resin, essential oils, beeswax, clay, chalk, talcum, natural latex and natural dyes.
These paints often have no odor in the case of water based and pleasant scent in the case of natural oil based. They are considered the best for yourself and the environment. You will rarely see allergies or sensitivities to these types of paints.
Ethylene Glycol is a solvent used in many latex paints. It is an odorless, colorless, clear liquid. Exposure to it or it’s vapor can be toxic. It can cause allergic reactions and such symptoms as irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, lungs and skin.
In addition it can cause nausea, vomiting, respiratory failure and coma. Prolonged over exposure can cause kidney damage. However there are latex paints available that are ethylene glycol free.
There is one new alternative in low VOC paints available today. It is called Ceramic Paint. It uses microscopic ceramic beads in the paint. Ceramic paint is healthy and safe enough for your baby’s nursery, and it’s very durable and hygienic.