We often hear the term "VOCs" but do you know what it means? VOCs are Volatile Organic Compounds, a class of carbon-based chemicals that tend to give off harmful emissions as they evaporate. They are commonly found in many household products such as cleaners and glues, as well as paint, varnish, and wax.
Traditional oil-based paints, stains, and clear finishing products are very high in VOCs. On the other hand, these same types of products that use water as a carrier are significantly lower in their levels of harmful emissions. Many of today’s modern paints are water-based and therefore significantly better for everyone’s health.
VOCs can have several direct and indirect effects on the painter. Short-term exposure can cause irritation to your eyes, nose and throat, headaches, nausea, and even loss of coordination. Over the long term, they can damage your liver, kidneys, and central nervous system and some are even suspected or known to cause cancer in humans. Using materials that are low in VOCs and working with good ventilation can help minimize these effects.
Because of some of the products and materials we use in our daily lives, VOC levels can average 2 to 5 times higher indoors than outdoors. After activities such as painting, those levels can rise to as much as 1000 times the typical background levels usually found outdoors. Since VOCs can have the same negative health effects on everyone living in the home, choosing quality materials that are low in VOCs will help maintain good indoor air quality.
VOCs also have an effect outside our homes in the larger environment. They have the potential to increase ground-level ozone levels that violate the national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS). Ground level ozone is a major component of “smog” and is associated with many negative human health effects. Smog also contributes to crop loss and damage to forests and other ecosystems. You can help protect the environment by making an environmentally sound choice when you use zero- or low-VOC materials to create beautiful finishes for your home.
The environmental and health effects of paint and other finishing materials is a complicated subject. Technology is rapidly evolving to create high-performing paints and other finishing materials that don’t harm the painter or the environment.
For more information, visit www.epa.gov.