VOCs paint an ugly picture

Who doesn’t love the smell of fresh paint?  But, as so often seems the case, the good things in life are bad for us.

Green buildings transcend their structure and actually produce a positive effect on the health and comfort of their occupants. A key factor which determines this is the type of architectural coatings (paints, sealers etc.) and how many volatile organic compounds (VOCs) they contain.   Alas, these toxins are responsible for that wonderful fresh paint aroma.

VOCs are mainly used as solvents in coatings and contain aliphatic hydrocarbons, ethyl acetate, glycol ethers, acetone and formaldehyde.  In addition to being virtually unspellable, all of these have a very low boiling point slowly evaporate at room temperatures to be absorbed in to the human body. (Formaldehyde has a boiling point of -2F!) Low VOC coatings, by contrast, are those which contain water-based solvents.

Some of the harmful effects these VOC’s include irritation, headaches, loss of coordination, nausea, damage to liver, kidney, and central nervous system. Some are even suspected to cause cancer.

The EPA estimates that in a typical building the concentration of VOCs could be up to 5 times the concentration of outdoor air. In fresh paint this can be about 1000 times. In a society which spends most of our time indoors, the use of low VOC coatings can go a long way to reduce long term health risks and ensure comfort.