Today, there is an emphasis by manufacturers of paints to lower the amount of toxicity in the solvents used for the creation process. Historically, paints have been made with what is known as volatile organic compounds (VOC) which get released into the air when the paint dries. While VOCs have not really been an issue with paints used outdoors because they disperse rather quickly, they are problematic with paints that are used indoors.
Therefore, there has been a push in recent years by paint manufacturers to create low VOC paint which greatly reduces the amount of solvents released into the atmosphere. Both low and zero VOC paint products are being produced and marketed by many paint companies.
For those who are considering adding a new coat of paint indoors, perhaps on the walls or floors of your business or residence, there is something you should know about VOC paint. While most people are aware of the dangers from paints and other products that use polyurethane, they also mistakenly believe that once the paint dries the danger passes which is simply not true.
What is VOC Paint?
Standing for Volatile Organic Compounds, VOCs are the dangerous elements found in polyurethane, a petroleum-based product. Polyurethane is one of the most versatile substances ever made. It can be found in numerous products because it provides additional strength and flexibility while mixing well with paints, foam cushions, and many other items.
For many years, the dangers of VOCs in paints and epoxies were well-known, which is why protective masks are worn during application. This is because when the paint is wet there are a considerable number of VOCs released into the atmosphere. However, the area is usually ventilated which clears away the VOCs, leaving the air safe.
What was not well known until recently was that even when pain fully dries, VOCs are still being released. While the amounts are small, the VOCs can build up over time and present a health risk to those who live or work inside. This is because the VOCs are released into the indoor air, float around in the room, and have no way to escape.
There isn’t proper ventilation as can be found outdoors, which disperses the VOCs, so they are relatively harmless. The indoor environment, especially during the cold, winter months when the windows stay shut, can trap VOCs in place where they may cause harm.
How are VOCs Released?
Over time, small amounts of VOCs are released into the air inside of garages and buildings and rise upwards towards the ceiling. Unlike the outdoors where the wind disperses the VOCs quickly, they build up inside over time and present a danger to those who live or work on the property. Even if the room is ventilated, the VOCs may still be present in the home, office, or facility in unhealthy amounts.
Studies have shown that even people who do not have asthma or other respiratory ailments are vulnerable to inhaling VOCs that have built up over the years. Worse, many of the issues associated with prolonged exposure to VOCs may be mistaken for other types of illnesses or reactions. This makes diagnosis difficult and the proper treatment delayed which may make the exposure worse over time.
For those who want a robust floor coating and paint without the toxic elements associated with polyurethane, there is an answer. A new line of non-toxic flooring products has been introduced which have little to no VOCs present.
Effects of VOCs
Exposure to VOCs are known to cause respiratory issues, especially for those who have conditions such as asthma. However, VOCs can affect the health of anyone if the exposure takes place over a long time. It also may not be easily diagnosed since the symptoms associated with VOC exposure may be mistaken for other conditions, such as allergies, the flu, or coming from sources such as bacteria or germs.
Depending on how much is inhaled over time, the effects to a persons health are noticeable and in rare cases, serious. This is why it’s important to ensure that the paint you use in your home, office, or facility has little to no VOCs present.
How VOCs Affect Your Health
The release of VOCs from drying paint may cause a number of health issues for those who stay for many hours inside a home, office, building, or facility. The short term affects are dizziness and headaches which may be caused in part by the odor, but more likely it is the VOCs which are being released that creates the ill effects.
Over time, the headaches and dizziness disappear as the solvents are fully released and eventually dispersed so they are no longer an immediate health threat. However, the long term effects of VOCs are still not very clear. The US Environmental Protection Agency has warned that some VOCs may be carcinogens which might cause cancer in certain individuals. It must be stated that there are no long term studies that confirm this theory, but it is strongly suspected given the nature of the organic compounds that are used in the paint.
How the Federal Government Regulates VOCs
Today, the federal government places a limit on the amount of VOCs that can be present in pain. The content cannot exceed 250 grams per liter for flat finish paint and 380 grams per liter for other types of finishes. However, there are even lower limits set by the state of California which sets the amount at just 50 grams per liter.
What the number is a relatively low amount, there are paint manufacturers who have gone far lower when it comes to the creation of low VOC paint. In the past, the issue with creating low or zero VOC paint is that it generally performs poorly in terms of longevity and coverage compared to paints with much higher VOC levels. That has changed dramatically however thanks to the introduction of new materials which make the low and no VOC paints far more durable than ever before.
The Rise of Low VOC Paint
Because of the environment impact of VOCs, the effort by government and paint manufactures has been considerable in recent years when it comes to lowering the amount. The good news is that technology combined with new materials have made this type of paint possible although because of the processing it still costs somewhat above standard, higher VOC paints.
Thanks to modern manufacturing methods, low VOC paint has become a reality and today you can find it in many retail stores for both individual consumers and painting companies who want to use the best products with the lowest toxicity values.