When painting and doing other projects around the house this spring be sure to use your least toxic options. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are chemicals used as solvents in many household products. VOCs readily evaporate at room temperature and can cause a range of negative health effects including headaches, fatigue, visual disorders, and difficulty breathing—many are neurotoxins. Some are suspected of causing, or are known to cause, cancer in humans.
Some of the most hazardous VOCs found in paint supplies include: benzene, a known human carcinogen; formaldehyde, a preservative shown to cause cancer in animals and may cause cancer in humans; and methylene chloride, known to cause cancer in animals. According to the U.S. EPA, methylene chloride (paint strippers, adhesive removers, and aerosol spray paints) is converted to carbon monoxide in the body and can cause symptoms associated with exposure to carbon monoxide.
Fortunately, natural paint options abound. Most are available on-line or by mail order. Colors are achieved with mineral pigments or plant dyes. Paints are based upon raw ingredients such as clay, chalk, casein milk solids, lime, marble, linseed oil, castor oil, or beeswax, etc. Many of these companies offer additional non-toxic products such as sealers, paint strippers, finishes, wood filler, exterior paint, and more.
For convenience without the VOCs, look no further than your corner store. Most local paint stores now offer a low-VOC or VOC-free line of interior paint. While less toxic and less odorous than standard options, this paint may still contain synthetic colorants, biocides, and fungicides.
Natural (low or no VOCs and free of biocides, fungicides, and synthetic colorants)
- Auro (aurousa.com; 888-302-9352) Interior and Exterior Paint, Primers, Stains, Finishes, Adhesives, Wood Filler, Varnish
- BioShield (bioshieldpaint.com; 800-621-2591) Clay Paint, Finish, Plaster, Milk Paint, Solvent-free Paint, Glaze, Enamel
- Green Planet Paints (greenplantetpaints.com; 520 394 2571) Clay Paint, Glazes
- Livos (livos.us; 503-257-9663) Paint, Primer, Sealer, Thinner, Tool Cleaner, Weather Protection, Adhesives, Varnish
- Real Milk Paint Company (realmilkpaint.com; 800-339-9748) Milk Paint, Paint Remover and Stripper, Tung Oil
- Soy Clean (soyclean.biz; 641-522-9559) Paint Stripper, Wood Sealer and Waterproofer, BBQ Grill Cleaner
Zero VOC (may contain synthetic colorants, biocides, and fungicides)
- Benjamin Moore Natura
- Home Depot Freshaire Choice
- Mythic Non-Toxic Paint
- Pittsburgh Paints Pure Performance
- Sherwin-Williams Harmony
- AFM (afmsafecoat.com; 800-239-0321) Paint, Primers, Stains, Finishes, Carpet Sealer, Wood Sealer. Products are not completely naturally, but they are free of biocides, fungicides, formaldehyde, ammonia, and ethylene glycol. AFM is a member of U.S. Green Building Council.
For more information:
-Melissa Cooper Sargent, Spring 2008
Click Paint Pure to download the article in pdf format.