In college, and in need of cash, I painted houses for a building company. By the end of the day, I always had the worst headaches, and I knew it was from the toxic paint fumes. Of course, in college you're invincible; plus, where else could I have made $11 an hour without a college degree? Today, with thousands of Americans making their living at the end of a roller, there is a silver lining. Many manufacturers are now producing beautiful, safe, environmentally friendly, nontoxic paints.
Painting is one of the quickest ways to give a room personality. You can create feelings of happy, calm, warm or healing, depending on the color you choose. It's also one of the quickest ways to expose yourself and your family to significant amounts of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, found in most commercially produced paints. These are solvents which help keep the paint wet while in the can, and also help speed up the drying process. They are known carcinogens and, even in small doses, cause dizziness, headaches and an irregular heartbeat. In high doses they can cause liver or kidney damage.
These products are some of the worst contributors to indoor air pollution. The Environmental Protection Agency lists paint and finishes as one of the top five human health hazards, as they release low level toxic emissions into the air even years after their application [Source: EPA]. VOCs are the number one toxin in conventional paint, along with thousands of other synthetic chemicals such as fungicides, insecticides and preservatives [Source: EPA].
Indoor use of lead-base paint has been illegal in the United States since the 1970s.The next legislative challenge is to get rid of VOCs and synthetic chemicals. We can ensure this happens with consumer demand, refusing to purchase paint with these ingredients, and demanding our legislators take action to ensure companies have the health of consumers at the forefront of production.
So what to do in the meantime? Thanks to the work of many environmental groups and consumer demand, most manufacturers now produce one or more low- or non-VOC paints. I have found these to be just as good as conventional varieties. Look for paints made from tree and plant oils, herbal extracts, minerals, vegetable pigments, citrus peel thinners and beeswax. You can also find food-based paints with added essential oils that are truly lovely and leave your newly painted room with a fresh scent rather than that of chemical fumes.
When you paint indoors, always remember to have good ventilation no matter how safe the paint. Some cans might have no VOCs, but still contain a small amount of toxins. Avoid painting in the winter months and instead wait for spring when you can open the doors and windows. Choosing a nontoxic, earth-friendly paint is not only important to the health of your family, but also the health of the planet. As always, do a little research on the company before purchasing your products.
The case for earth-friendly paints:
- Easy to clean up with a damp cloth.
- Good for people with allergies or skin sensitivities.
- Fairly affordable.
- Leave a fresh scent, rather than that of fumes.
- Protects your health and the planet.
- Works just as good as conventional paint without the health risk.