Low VOC paints May Still Cause Asthma & Allergies

Tom Lent | October 22, 2010 | Materials

This blog post, originally shared in the Pharos Signal, includes information about parts of Pharos that are no longer available. Please use it for historical reference and for the other useful information it contains.

Fumes from chemicals commonly used in water-based paints and solvents may be associated with substantially higher rates of asthma, stuffy noses and eczema. The Swedish/US joint study reported in Environmental Health News this week found that children sleeping in rooms with higher concentrations of propylene glycol and glycol ether compounds (PGEs) in the air were two to four times more likely to suffer symptoms.

Ironically, PGEs have been used more widely in cleaners and paints as manufacturers have sought to lower their VOCs (volatile organic compounds). PGEs are VOCs, but they emit at lower levels than the older, highly toxic oil solvent-based compounds. Pharos now identifies PGE compounds when they appear in paints and other products with links to this information and will watch the science for further information on the connections between asthma and chemicals in building products.

Given the lack of full disclosure of material contents in most paints and the still evolving science on other contributors to asthma, the most protective path is to choose paints with no VOCs. Paints that score 7 or higher in the Pharos VOC category have at least a manufacturer declaration that there are no VOCs (PGEs included) in the formula, including so-called "exempt VOCs." And don't forget the tints. Specify VOC free tints to make sure the PGEs and other VOCs that you kept out of the paint don't sneak back in through the colorant.