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Are VOCs in Paint Dangerous for Your Health?

Are VOCs in Paint Dangerous for Your Health?

semivolatile organics

Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, are known for the way they evaporate at room temperature, often emitting scents in the process. It is this readiness to evaporate that makes VOCs a common component in paints – VOC solvents, for example are used as drying agents in many paints, so the paint dries as solvent evaporates.

Low-VOC and no-VOC paints have entered the market but even these paints are not truly free of VOC compounds; a paint without a VOC drying agent will often still have a (sometimes significant) VOC content based on other ingredients like the pigment that is added at the point of sale. Some of these VOCs are harmless but others can put human health in jeopardy.

Dangers of VOCs in paint

It is easy to assume that paints designated for large-scale applications like covering walls would be safe to breathe. In some cases, and in some quantities, they can be, but spending time in a confined space concentrates the exposure, increasing the risk of health dangers.

The effects of evaporating paint are far stronger indoors than out. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that indoor VOCs are normally two to five times higher than outdoor levels. During activities like stripping paint, indoor levels can be 1,000 times the outdoor levels.

Some VOCs are harmless, even in a confined space like a home. Others are potentially lethal carcinogens. Most of the off-gassing of interior paint takes place in the early days after painting but the paint can continue emitting VOCs for years, posing an ongoing threat to health. For someone who makes the mistake of applying an exterior paint to an interior surface, the potentially dangerous off-gassing can continue for far longer.

According to the EPA, some of the health dangers of VOC exposure include:

  • Irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat
  • Headaches
  • Organ damage
  • Allergic skin reactions
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Visual disorders
  • Impaired memory
  • Some compounds are suspected or known to cause cancer

How VOC testing can help

When it comes to indoor VOC measurement, the levels can fluctuate considerably based on the activities going on. A new paint job will increase the level, but so will bringing in many products like new furniture and carpeting. A home or office remodeling project can increase the levels dramatically.

Indoor VOC testing offers an analysis of the off-gassing taking place in a space in order to determine which of the compounds may potentially be harming human health. The State of Florida regulates more than two dozen VOCs that are known to cause serious health complications so it is especially important to have an accurate picture of indoor air quality.

Not all VOC testing is the same. There are different methods available and a testing protocol should be tailored to the environment or object to be analyzed.

VOC testing in Florida

Phoslab Environmental Services, in Lakeland, FL, offers VOC testing among its full range of environmental laboratory testing services. Our professionals can assist in determining an approach for testing that will help you stay compliant with state or federal regulations while promoting health and safety.

Additional “dangers of VOCs in paint” resources

  1. Consumer Reports, What are VOCs in paint, and is more or less of them better?,
  2. EPA, EPA Regional Office and State Indoor Air Quality Information,