What Are the VOCs in Paint?

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Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOCs, occur naturally in the environment or as a result of human-made chemicals. One of these man-made chemicals is paint, among a long list of other products. When VOCs from paint are released, they are harmful not only to the environment but to your health. Learning about the health effects of VOCs and what you can do to reduce these health effects is important when using paint.

Health Problems

  • According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, overexposure to VOCs have short- and long-term adverse health effects. Symptoms of overexposure to VOCs include eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, allergic skin reactions, shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, nose bleeds, fatigue, dizziness and declines in serum cholinesterase levels, which is a drop of blood levels of certain enzymes that help the nervous system work properly. Additionally, the EPA also states that some VOCs are suspected of inducing cancer.

VOC Limits in Paint

  • According to the EPA, concentrations of many VOCs are up to ten times higher indoors than outdoors. For this reason, it is important to choose indoor paint with low VOCs. The federal government allows 250 grams of VOCs per liter for flat finishes and 380 for other finishes. Some states have paints that limit VOCs in flat coatings to 100 grams per liter and non-flat coatings to 150 grams per liter under the Clean Air Act, which is an organization under the Ozone Transport Commission. Furthermore, some indoor paints claim to have zero VOCs and are available from independent paint dealers nationwide.

Reducing Exposure

  • Aside from choosing paint with little or no VOCs, reduce VOCs that are emitted from paint by increasing ventilation so that fresh air is amply circulated. Always meet or exceed the manufacturer's warnings and always follow the directions for how the product should be used to reduce your exposure. Do not store opened paint containers and paint supplies because gases can leak even if the containers are closed. If you must store containers and supplies, keep them in a well-ventilated area. To avoid having to store paint, buy the paint in limited quantities and use it immediately.

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