Odorless Doesn’t Mean Harmless – An Analysis of Odorless Paints - By ChemVent Chemical Product Development -

Article by: Chemvent http://www.chemvent.com/odorlesspaintanalysi/

With the introduction of odorless paint, precautions are being thrown out the window. Fumeless means harmless, or does it?  Normal paint fumes are known to be hazardous. When painting, most individuals take precautions such as ensuring proper ventilation and limiting exposure to wet paint. But what really determines the level of potential harm, and are health precautions still needed even with odorless paint?

The average paint has some level of toxicity. Most people know to ventilate rooms, keep pregnant women away from fumes, and carefully guard materials to make sure no children accidentally ingest the substance. But is common knowledge enough? Some paints include known toxins such as turpentine, heavy metals, formaldehyde, vinyl chloride and more. While most people are cognizant of immediate reactions to over-exposure, they are unaware of long-term effects of the paint, even after it has dried. In fact paint can emit harmful chemicals for over six years after use. With this understanding the question quickly becomes, if my paint is harmful years after the fumes have ceased – is odorless really any benefit at all?

Odorless paint has quickly gained the interest of consumers concerned with the movement in product development improvement, stricter environmental regulations and individual concern over health risks. Misrepresentation in media and misleading product taglines have had a large part in consumers’ misguided understanding. Online articles describe odorless paint as “low in volatile organic compounds (VOCs)” and consisting of “natural elements rather than chemicals”.  Truth be told “odorless” guarantees nothing of the kind.
For example look at one of the many odorless primers in today’s market. Though the product has an “ultra low odor formula”, upon scrolling down the product warnings read, “WARNING! This product contains chemicals known to the state of California to cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm. CONTAINS PETROLEUM DISTILLATES. VAPOR HARMFUL:  May affect the brain or nervous system causing dizziness, headache, or nausea. Causes eye, skin, nose and throat irritation.” Of course these warnings are nothing new to the paint industry and many brands require such a label.

What may be more shocking are the words of the CEO of a California paint company who says of one of their low-odor products, “If you were to stick your nose in it, you wouldn’t even know it isn’t latex. It has no odor whatsoever. But it has almost the maximum amount of VOCs.” In fact EPA’s TEAM studies show that even products with organic chemicals can contain extremely high pollutant levels.
The real threat is a combination of toxic chemicals and VOCs. Volatile Organic Compounds have “organic” right in the name but they in no way represent the term’s connotation prevalent in today’s world. As “Volatile” infers, these compounds have adverse short and long-term affects on an individual’s health. A wide variety of products emit VOCs including cleaning supplies, pesticides, paints and lacquers, and host of office and craft items. Natural paints can include toxins such as terpene oil solvents which are known to generate carcinogenic microparticulates as they interact with the ozone in your home. Even slight exposure to poisons over an extended period of time can result in what is called Sick Building Syndrome and in some cases cause brain damage. More information regarding common chemical solvents and their associated health risks can be found here.

The good news is steps are being made to reduce the level of VOCs in paints and companies are starting to create non-toxic, zero-VOC paints. The regulatory changes regarding VOCs began in March of 2009 when the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) agreed to reduce VOC contents in pain thinners and solvents to 300g/L with the plan to decrease that to 25g/L in Jan of 2011. This was revised by the California Air Resources Board in conjunction with SCAQMD to regulate the VOC by weight and allow 30% VOC as of Dec 2010 decreasing to 3% in Dec 2013. This 3% in practice is quite close to the original 25g/L ruling. It is important to note that while addressing the VOC % is a good thing, substitute chemicals may provide alternative health risks such as agents with high flammability.
As the EPA and OTC take note of the danger of VOCs the responsibility continues to weigh heavily on the consumer to understand a product’s associated risks. By definition many chemicals are VOC exempt though they still have extreme health hazards. Ammonia and butyl acetate are two common chemicals in paint that are harmful but do not affect the VOC rate. Companies are also only required to report ingredients that make up over 1% of the product. Therefore even purchasing a low or Zero-VOC paint does not ensure safety.
It is important for consumers to keep a few things in mind when considering safety implications of their paint products.
Odorless does not mean harmless. Don’t be duped by good marketing schemes.

Follow all safety precautions making sure that paint is allowed to cure for 3 days without people in the area.
Carefully research you paint choices taking into account VOC levels and toxic chemicals.
If looking for greater protection search for all-natural paint brands.
Buy materials in quantities you know you will quickly use. VOCs can emit through closed containers.
Never dispose of paint in the garbage, research you area’s toxic household waste removal.
Lastly, to manufacturers – know what you are creating. If you are a paint manufacturer looking to create a better alternative, employ thorough product testing and analysis to discover options for product improvement.

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