Will Painting make you ill ?


Worried that the ­wallpaper in your front room is looking a bit tatty? Think the bathroom could do with a lick of paint? Well, think twice before you start redecorating.

Chemicals from paint can cause serious health problems - both for those who apply them, whether they are professionals or DIY enthusiasts - and those who have to live in the house afterwards.

There are also hidden dangers in ­apparently simple procedures such as removing old wallpaper and replastering. 

‘People leap into decorating without ­giving a second thought to the risks involved,’ says Dr Richard Deacon, a ­Lancashire-based GP. ‘Decorating ­products need to be handled with care. You need to read the labels carefully. It’s actually a bit like handling medicine.’

So what are the risks - and how can you avoid them... 

Hidden dangers: Paints used in the home often contain harmful chemicals and compounds that are inhaled by the decorator when they dry



Paints used in the home contain ­potentially harmful chemicals such as ­solvents and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). ‘When the paint dries, these chemicals evaporate into the air where the hapless decorator can inhale their toxic fumes,’ explains Dr Deacon. 

Paint falls into two categories: water-based, often referred to as acrylic emulsions and usually used on walls; and solvent, or oil-based paints which tend to be used for a glossy finish (solvents are added to paint to thin the ­mixture so it will spread evenly).
Inhaling paint fumes can exacerbate asthma and ­sinusitis, says Dr Keith Prowse, of the British Lung Foundation.

Because the solvents are absorbed into the lungs, then the blood stream, they can lead to headaches and dizziness. ‘If you paint for too long in a room with no ­ventilation, it can even cause a blackout,’ says Dr Prowse.

When VOCs are inhaled, they can cause eye, nose and throat ­irritation. In large quantities, ­animal ­studies have linked these chemicals to birth defects, cancers and damage to the central ­nervous system.

Professional painters are most at risk: they have a 20 per cent increased risk of a range of ­cancers, particularly lung cancer, according to the World Health Organisation.
Meanwhile, in Denmark, ­specialists have identified a ­neurological condition brought on by long-term exposure to paint solvents — ‘painter’s dementia’.

And men regularly exposed to the chemicals in paint may be more prone to fertility problems, suggests a study from Sheffield and Manchester University.

The World Health Organisation has also raised concerns about the long-term health effects of ‘off ­gassing’, the release of vapours over the life of the paint.

Getting paint on the skin can also lead to an allergic, rash-like reaction, says ­consultant ­dermatologist Dr Andrew Wright, of ­Bradford Teaching ­Hospital Trust. So can white spirit, which is used to remove paint from skin. 

SOLUTION: Water-based paints pose fewer risks than solvent-based ones since they should be toxin-free and also lower in odour. An alternative is to try a ­natural paint such as eco paint, which is solvent, VOC-free and odourless.

Natural paints don’t release toxic fumes. And since brushes can be cleaned with water, there’s no need for white spirit or turpentine — another potential source of ­solvents. Always ensure the room you are decorating is well ­ventilated by opening windows. 

Take frequent breaks in the fresh air and don’t use the room until the paint is completely dry.

Lay out dust sheets and consider wearing a ‘respirator’ mask. 
Solvents are highly flammable — keep paint cans away from open flames. ­Dispose of rags properly — rags soaked with oil-based paints can ignite spontaneously.

Reference : Daily Mail Australia

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  • Ross Hopkins