Solvent Exposures in Painting

School maintenance staff and contracted painting staff may experience significant solvent exposure in application of solvent-based paints. Likewise, other school occupants can experience symptoms related to paint application, either during application or in subsequent days and weeks, depending on the type of paint and the amount of ventilation.

Occupational Exposures to Painters

The occupational health hazards to persons involved frequently in painting include various lung diseases ranging from acute lung irritation to chronic bronchitis and occupational asthma. Reports on occupational cancer risks showed consistent and significant increased risks to painters for cancers of all sites and for lung and bladder cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded that occupational exposure as a painter should be classified as carcinogenic. Known carcinogens in paint include some VOCs (benzene, dichloromethane, carbon tetrachloride, tetrachloroethylene, epichlorhydrin, toluene diisocyanate) as well as some pigments, fillers and dyes.

Prolonged high exposure of painters to solvents has been reported mainly in Scandinavian studies to lead to mild to severe neurobehavioural dysfunction and to psychiatric disorders. Permanent chronic effects from typical occupational painting exposures to VOCs (volatile organic compounds) more generally can also occur, including neurobehavioural effects, neurophysiological effects (such as electroencephalogram and electomyogram changes) and alterations in sensory thresholds.

Typical Exposures

Trials with roller application of a solvent-borne paint indicated that occupational exposures standards (in the region of 500 mg/m3 for hydrocarbons) were exceeded 20-30 minutes into the painting operation even with high ventilation rates of 7-11 air changes per hour. Trials with water-based paints found that while occupational exposure standards for constituents were not exceeded, health effects such as mucosal irritation and headache occurred, probably due to a combined action of ammonia, formaldehyde and solvents.

(As a comparison of exposure levels, the "no-effect" level for mixtures of VOCs in an office environment has been shown to be on the order of 0.16 mg/m3, some 3000 times less than occupational exposure standards. This level is being used as a target level for healthy buildings by the Envirodesic Certification Program:contact:62.)

Effects on Occupants

VOC concentrations in the indoor air of new buildings may take a period of weeks or months after construction to diminish to steady background levels. Interior paints and coatings are one of the contributors to this pollution. A Swedish study determined that presence of weekly symptoms compatible with sick building syndrome was significantly related to exposure to indoor surfaces painted in the previous year, for females and for individuals with atopy (allergy). In particular, the study suggested that exposure to wood paints could cause irritation of the eyes, nose, throat and facial skin. In another study, formaldehyde, aliphatic compounds (C8-C11), butanols and TXIB (2,2,4-trimethyl-1,3-pentanediol diisobutyrate) were significantly elevated in dwellings that were newly painted.

  Record #23, revised 1/3/2001


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