There are very few homes these days that aren’t doused in paint. Hey, a dab of color here and there can do a lot. It can make a room brighter and airier. It can suggest humor or an affinity for nature. Teenagers can let out a bit of angst with black or blood red. The color of someone’s room has been used to suggest gender. Let us just say that house paint has made its mark on the modern household.

The problem, however, is that that mark is too often lingering too long. It started with lead paints, which turned to be just flat-out poisoning millions of people, especially children. These days we all know about lead poisoning. While this public health catastrophe — after serious struggle — has now largely been addressed with various laws and restrictions, lead paint remains in several million homes in the U.S. It’s scary, serious stuff

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The as-pertinent current issue is whether or not these new lead-free paints are truly a safe alternative. It turns out that many of the new lead-free paints (lead paints stopped being used in homes in 1978) we are using are also highly toxic.

Not Painting a Pretty Picture

Many of today’s paints give off harmful fumes from volatile organic compounds —acetone, xylene, toluene, benzene, etc. —  that are commonly found in our homes and linked to some pretty serious health issues, especially with regards to respiration, cognitive function, and development. Many of these chemicals can cause cancer, as well as a variety of other unappealing ailments like eye/nose/throat irritation, allergy problems, headaches, memory loss, nausea and more along that old familiar list. Moreover, related products like paint thinners and strippers also bear similar results, not to mention sanding off the old paint. It’s a big unhealthy mess of corner we’ve painted ourselves into.

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  • Toluene (in paint and paint thinners) causes memory loss, brain impairment, and weakness, and it is possibly damages the kidneys, liver and reproductive system.
  • Benzene (in paint, solvents, and art supplies) is linked to cancer, causes headaches, causes tremors, contributes to anemia, can cause convulsions, and increases the heart rate.
  • Xylene (in paint) potentially causes nausea, lung damage, eye/nose/throat irritation and skin burns, all while it seriously works over the nervous system.
  • Acetone (with paint) is commonly used to thin or remove paints, and it is good for slurred speech, lethargy, headaches, coordination problems and possibly comas and blood pressure issues.

Unfortunately, despite this information being readily available, regulation agencies have not learned from previous experience, and of yet there are no laws preventing or limiting the use of such products. Long-term exposure, such as what a painter might get, eventually affects the liver, kidney and nervous system. Equally as frightening is that children, with higher metabolic and breathing rates, are the most at-risk when it comes to paint toxins. The VOCs are obviously much more concentrated in indoor spaces, where our families are sleeping. Off-gas emissions are most evident in the first day or two after painting — when we can smell them —  but can occur years later.

The Easy Win-Win Solution

Well, while it may be easy to get in an uproar and harbor disdain for all paint companies, the good news is that some have actually clued in enough to either go all-out with toxin-free paints or, at the very least, offer a separate line that contents lower concentrations of VOCs. So, it would behoove us as consumers to support these companies and product lines so that the paint industry on the whole takes notice. In the meantime, our homes will be safe.

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We should definitely take the time to voice our concerns about the toxic environments that are currently being built (or painted), but we should also fix the issue in our homes. That means spending a little time and money to get the nasty paint out (or sealed in) and refinishing our rooms with clean options. Companies like Sherman Williams, Benjamin Moore and Lullaby Paints all market zero VOC choices. However, it is important to note that zero VOC does not denote that the paint does not contain VOCs, there can still be harmful compounds used in the tints – rather, this is an industry term that enables paints that contain only up to a certain threshold of VOCs to be measured as “zero.”

The best bet to avoid unnecessary harmful chemicals is to opt for a non-toxic paint. Mythic is great brands to choose from.

Other Tactics for Clean Air Inside

The main issue with these paints comes from the vapors that VOCs release. Inside this becomes a bigger problem because, of course, the air tends to be a bit more stagnant. Aside from using safe paint, there are other ways of making sure the air inside our homes is something worth breathing. Here are more helpful  articles for making the spaces we live and the air within them greener and cleaner.

Lead image source: marc faladera/Flickr