By Jacqui Flaherty (with information taken from Dave Scaturro’s article for Alpine Painting in The Akron Beacon Journal)
If you have picked up a paint brush, you are well aware of the common dangers that can be associated with painting. Contractors and homeowners alike are conscious of the health and environmental concerns that have been linked to lead paint, which was not too long ago immensely popular, but since 1978 has been largely banned because of its hazardous properties. Due to the fact that contracts and professional painters always have safety in mind as their #1 priority, they are very aware of the potential dangers that may come with the products they are using, applying or working with. As such, professionals in the industry know what to look for when choosing a specific paint for a specific job–indoor or outdoor. However, the typical homeowner, who is not in the paint industry, may be unaware of a few crucial things when purchasing paint, besides a “lead free” label. One important thing to look for is a label stating that paint in particular has low or little VOCs.
Understanding the dangers of VOCs
VOC stands for “volatile organic compounds,” and they can be dangerous to occupants and the environment, especially if they are being applied indoors. Prolonged exposure to these compounds, found in literally thousands of popular products on the market, can cause both serious health effects, both short and long term. The US Environmental Protection Agency lists a few of these health concerns on their website, which can range from eye and nose irritation to very serious health problems such as liver, kidney, and nervous system damage.
What to look for on paint labels
How can homeowners determine the level of VOCs in the paint they are about to purchase? There are two ratings to be conscious of, one that warrants a bit more attention than the other. The Green Seal Certified label will tell the consumer the content of the compounds in the paint being purchased. Of more importance is the Greenguard label, which contains information about how much harmful gas the compounds in the paint will produce and subsequently release into the air. When painting indoors this is especially important, as the natural ventilation that occurs outdoors is not available. However it should also be noted that just because a label stats that a certain paint has a low VOC content does not mean that this paint is necessarily a good option. Consumers should not look for “low VOC” or “no VOC” labels, but instead should look for labels that indicate “low VOC gas emission,” which is a very different animal. Paints that how low VOC emission also tend to be low odor.
Consumer awareness is key to safety
Not only are these low VOC options good for the environmentally friendly coatings and paints, they are also the first choice of many contractors and home and building owners because they are a safer option for occupants. Indoor painting jobs done in buildings that have a lot of faces coming in and out each day, such as office buildings, schools or condos, require careful attention to ensure occupants are not harmed by the contents of the structure. Paints with VOC contents can release these harmful gasses into the air, which in a confined space can be extremely harmful, especially in environments such as hospitals. For this reason, contractors need to be very cautious of what they are buying and applying. Homeowners should also keep these priorities in mind when they are purchasing paint for in-home jobs, as awareness of VOCs can make a huge difference in the health and safety of their families.