Hazardous Constituents in Paint

Paint emits fumes during the application and curing process that may be hazardous to some or all individuals exposed, depending on the type of paint and the amount of ventilation air supplied to and exhausted from the area. A CMHC (Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation) report details some of the hazards generally associated with paint constituents.

The CMHC reference breaks down the potentially hazardous constituents in paints into five categories, and discusses the health effects associated with each category of constituent. The health effects below suggest that solvent exposure in schools should be avoided where possible, and that painting in schools should be done under adequate ventilation and while school is not in session if at all possible.

1. Solvents

Most organic solvents are central nervous system depressants, and at high acute exposures, these can cause transient effects of headache, drowsiness, and fatigue. Chronic exposures at levels exceeding occupational exposure standards also cause disturbances in memory and concentration, depression and irritability, and there is some evidence of increased incidence of nervous system damage among painters with chronic solvent exposure. Solvents may also contribute to nervous membrane and respiratory tract irritation (particularly butanol and the ketones and esters). Most solvents are toxic to the liver to some degree, especially chlorinated solvents, and there is some evidence of an association between moderate exposure to hydrocarbons and kidney disease. Some solvents present reproductive hazards, e.g. ethers of ethylene glycol. Some solvents have been classified as cancer-causing agents (e.g. benzene, tetrachloroethylene, carbon tetrachloride, styrene and dichloromethane).

2. Other Gases and Vapours

Amines, used as neutralizing agents, may be odorous and contribute to mucosal irritation. For example, ammonia and triethylamine are respiratory tract, skin and eye irritants. Triethylamine is also a sensitizer. Formaldehyde, used as a biocide, is a respiratory tract, skin and eye irritant, a skin sensitizer, a possible cause of occupational asthma, and an animal carcinogen (nasal cancer) at high levels. Diisocyanates, from polyurethane lacquers, are severe irritants to eyes, skin and respiratory trac and may cause respiratory sensitization and subsequent susceptibility to asthma. Residual monomers in acrylic latex resins (e.g. methyl methacrylate and butyl methacrylate) are odorous and respiratory tract, skin and eye irritants and some (butyl acrylate and 2-ethyl hexyl acrylate) are skin sensitizers even at low levels.

3. Biocides

Most biocides used in paints can be skin sensitizers.

4. Surfactants

Surfactants in paints may contribute to skin irritation or act as sensitizers.

5. Driers

Driers are used to accelerate latex curing. Salts of cobalt or zirconium may sensitize.

  Record #22, revised 1/3/2001


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