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Health Facts

There are two basic types of paint to choose from: water-based paints, often referred to as acrylic emulsions, and solvent-based paints. High-quality water-based paints offer not just an excellent all-round performance profile, they are also a good choice from a health and environmental perspective. Solvent-based paints, the more traditional type of paint, require users to excercise a degree of caution to avoid risks relating to potential health hazards.

All solvents are potential health hazards, even if toxicity varies from solvent to solvent. Certain solvent properties, and their known effects are specific, others are common to a group. Solvents can penetrate into the human body by three paths:

  • The respiratory tract (by inhaling the vapours)
  • The Skin (through unprotectd contact)
  • The digestive system (if swallowed in liquid form)

Limited exposure to solvents can be free from harm if under certain thresholds, varying according to the individual solvent. However, the impact of solvents on health should not be underestimated, as exposure can lead to any of the following:

  • Irritation of the skin, eyes and mucous membranes
  • Respiratory problems
  • Headaches, dizziness, nausea
  • Light-headedness
  • Effects to the nervous system
  • Blood, liver, kidney diseases
  • Carcinogenic effects

Clearly, the level of impact on human health varies according to level and duration as well as frequency of exposure. Long-term exposure to solvents can lead to problems which may include dermatitis. Exposure to very high levels of certain solvent vapours can lead to unconsciousness or even death.

Professional painters are a key risk group, as they are often occupationally exposed to solvents over prolonged periods. According to a report by The World Health Organisation: International Agency for Research on Cancer, there is a link between working as a professional painter and an increased risk of cancer of up to 20%, with the increased risk of lung cancer 40%.

Other notable risk groups are small children and the elderly – certain solvent vapours are particularly hazardous to these more vulnerable populations. Scientists in Europe see a connection between the alarming rise in respiratory ailments amongst young children such as asthma over the last 10-15 years and pollutants presence in indoor air.

DIY painters can do a number of things to protect things against potential health hazards and solvents. For a start, always use a non-toxic paint over any standard toxic products and make sure the pigments used are also non toxic.

source: Paint Quality Institute UK

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