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Watching Paint Dry…What’s Actually Happening?

February 27, 2014

home in handsThinking of sprucing up the house this spring? If so, this series might be for you. It relates home maintenance and personal care products to health. It focuses on Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) that come from these products, and affect air in our homes. The series outlines:

  • What VOCs are & where they come from,
  • How VOCs affect health,
  • Ways to reduce our exposure to VOCs at home.

What are VOC’s?
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids. VOCs include a variety of chemicals, some of which … have short – and long-term adverse health effects.

EAST TORONTO FROM BEARE HILL. LEFT, ON A CLEAR WINDY DAY, TORONTO AIR APPEARS FRESH AND CLEAN.  RIGHT, ON A STILL SPRING DAY OUR SMOG PROBLEM IS READILY APPARENT.3
EAST TORONTO FROM BEARE HILL.
LEFT, ON A CLEAR WINDY DAY, TORONTO AIR APPEARS FRESH AND CLEAN.
RIGHT, ON A STILL SPRING DAY OUR
SMOG PROBLEM IS READILY APPARENT.3

Health Canada says:

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are a large and diverse family of chemicals that contain carbon and hydrogen. They can be emitted into indoor air from a variety of sources including cigarette smoke, household products like air fresheners, furnishings and building materials such as paint, varnish and glues. They are also found in gasoline and other fuels and can enter the home through vehicle exhaust or vapours from stored fuel coming from attached garages or traffic outside.

 They affect air quality. Outdoors, VOCs contribute to the smog and greenhouse gas loads and that is why many countries first began to regulate them.

Sources of Indoor VOCs

There are thousands of VOCs; some natural; others are man-made. They do not always have a smell.  The Minnesota Department of Health lists common VOCs encountered in our homes:  Acetone, Benzene, Ethylene glycol, Formaldehyde, Methylene chloride, Perchloroethylene, Toluene, Xylene, 1,3-butadiene.The same excellent article shows us more specific kinds of VOC sources under headings like: building materials, home and personal care products. 

 
Sources of VOCs
Sources of VOCs

Sources of VOCs

 

Reflection:

In my house; the worst offender might be the old paints and solvents I stored in the basement – The cans are not likely air tight.

To focus on an example, we can look at methylene chloride, found in paint strippers. California recently focused an awareness campaign on it. Using graphic reports, it describes actual and tragic health/illness events where the compound was in use. The campaign also lists safer product options and the personal protective equipment specific to each type of paint stripper.

This post has outlined what VOCs are and where they come from.  It provides a link to allow the reader an expanded view of an example VOC. Our next post will return to VOCs in general and outline more of their concerning health effects.  Tune in yet again to see some easy, often inexpensive, healthier home and personal care options.

References

  1. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
  2. Health Canada.
  3. Friends of the Rouge Watershed   
  4. Minnesota Department of Health
  5. Sources of VOCs

From Health Services