The subject of ‘safe’ paint can be pretty daunting. There are so many types of paint available, and so many varying degrees of safety, it’s hard to get to the bottom line. While there’s a lot to know about the subject, one of the most important health concerns is the use of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
VOCs are the solvents used in paint that carry the pigment. As the paint dries, the VOCs evaporate and give off that recognizable new paint smell. But the smell is not just a smell, it’s also an indication that the VOCs are in the air we breathe. VOCs have been linked to asthma attacks, throat and eye irritation, nausea, headaches, and a number of other health problems. Long term exposure can lead to cancer and kidney and liver disease.
Although the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has regulations about VOCs, many experts think they don’t go far enough. For example, the EPA allows 250 grams of VOCs per liter of paint (g/L) while Green Seal, which evaluates, tests and certifies paint (among other things) as safe, only certifies those paints below 50 g/L.
Some experts believe that even 50 g/L is too high and recommend 15/20 g/L as the limit.
The VOC level is on the label so you can check it out. Your best bet is probably to go with “no VOC” paint – that way you don’t have to worry about which experts are right, you just know you’re protected.
Regardless of the fact that you may want paint that exceeds Green Seal standards regarding VOCs, I would still recommend getting paints that are at least Green Seal certified; many chemicals other than VOCs could still be in the paint and may be hazardous to our health and to the environment. There’s a list of at least a dozen such chemicals that are prohibited by Green Seal.
So, long and short of it, if you get natural pigment/no VOC paints that are also certified by Green Seal (you’ll see it on the label), you’re pretty much covered.
Have fun redecorating!