Painting Occupation Hazards | Toxic Wall Primers and Paints

ECOS 04/15/2024

Encountering Toxic Wall Primers and Paints in a Painting Profession

Did you know that inhaling paint or polyurethane fumes for an extended period of time can trigger headaches, fatigue, confusion, clouded thinking, dizziness, and nausea?

Did you know that repeated and extended exposure to paint fumes can lead to serious health effects, such as kidney, brain, and liver damage, blood deficiency, and even cancer?

More and more people are coming to realize the toxicity of paints and other coatings. From wall primers to interior paints and stains, the dangers of falling ill from fumes are numerous.

What Makes Paint Fumes So Dangerous?

Paints, wall primers, and related products are generally divided into two categories: water-based and oil-based. Oil-based paints include toxic solvents that make the paint spread more evenly. These products also off-gas harmful chemicals called volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. Once these paints dry, the VOCs evaporate into the atmosphere only to be inhaled by unsuspecting decorators.

What Are Paints Made Of?

Many oil-based paints are made of solvents, metal compounds (such as cadmium, chromium, and inorganic lead), and other harmful materials. Examples of these solvents include benzene (a known human carcinogen), xylenes (chemicals that irritate the respiratory tract, skin, and eyes), toluene (a chemical that may cause liver and kidney damage in addition to dizziness, weakness, anxiety, muscle fatigue, dermatitis, confusion, and exhaustion), and other toxins.

It’s one thing to consider how these chemicals affect homeowners and hobbyists, but how do they affect those who paint for a living?

Occupational Exposure for Professional Painters

In 1989, the IARC Monograph Volume 47 classified occupational exposure as a painter as a Group-1 carcinogen based on an increased risk for the development of lung cancer.

Without respirator masks or gloves, professional painters are routinely exposed to hazardous chemicals throughout their workday. When removing old paint, painters are exposed to a variety of pigments and fillers, and when applying new paint, they are exposed to solvents and harmful VOCs. Inhaling these fumes over an extended period of time can cause:

  • Dutch Painter’s Syndrome – also known as Painter’s Dementia or Chronic Solvent-Induced Encephalopathy
  • Asthma
  • Cancer
  • Fertility Problems
Evidence of Harm from Paint Exposure

According to an excerpt from the National Center for Biotechnology Information, there exists a strong correlation between a painter’s occupational exposure to paint and the risk of lung and bladder cancer as well as mesothelioma. Even after controlling for other job-related exposures and tobacco smoking, the magnitude of the risk remained consistent. The study also found a correlation between a mother’s exposure to fumes during painting and the development of childhood leukemia in the unborn child.

Where’s the Proof?

Lab work reveals that professionals who are exposed to paint have heightened levels of paint compounds or paint metabolites in their blood and urine. Experts agree that choosing low or no-VOC paints and wearing personal protective equipment can significantly reduce these risks.

Interestingly, some countries were at first hesitant to admit the legitimate (and scary) realities stemming from exposure to paint fumes. Take, for instance, Dutch Painter’s Syndrome, or Chronic Solvent-Induced Encephalopathy (CSE).

Dutch Painter’s Syndrome

In the 1970s and 1980s, more and more complaints began to emerge from those who worked with paint products over long periods of time. However, in many countries around the world, medical experts were reluctant to recognize CSE as a legitimate medical condition. Many physicians and scientists referred to CSE as “pseudo neurotoxic disease.”

Recognizing CSE

A combination of international support from peers, patient organizations, various publications, and the World Health Organization (WHO) brought CSE into the light as a legitimate medical concern. WHO organized a conference where long-term effects of organic solvents on the central nervous system were documented, and a classification with diagnostic criteria was developed. In the Netherlands, manufacturers of paints and inks actually recognized CSE as a legitimate issue and were the first in the world to provide screening programs for their employees. In 1978, Finland labeled CSE as a clinically recognized occupational disease.

While CSE is recognized in the European and ILO list of occupational diseases, many countries around the world still don’t recognize or take active measures to combat the condition. Controlling a worker’s exposure and monitoring their health for early neurotoxic effects are steps that are still needed globally.

 What Can We Do?

While those who take part in painting occupations face this frightening danger every day, there are steps that we can take to alleviate the problem. You can dramatically reduce the risk of health problems stemming from paint and polyurethane toxicity to humans by:

  • Wearing respirator masks while painting
  • Ensuring adequate ventilation
  • Utilizing water-based, zero VOC*, no odor** products from ECOS Paints
  • Monitoring your health with routine lab work to screen for various medical issues
  • Wearing gloves while handling oil-based paint products

What Is ECOS Paints?

ECOS Paints is a manufacturer of zero VOC*, no odor** paints, stains, varnishes, and other related products. Individuals who suffer from Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS), asthma, and chemical allergies are enthusiastic about our products, as are people with painting occupations. We genuinely care about the health of our customers, their pets, and the environment, and we want those who use our products to know exactly what’s in them. Each product includes straightforward data sheets and ingredient labels, so you can rest assured that you’re using a product that’s safe for your health.

Where Can I Buy ECOS Paints?

At ECOS, we make paint shopping an impressively simple, world-class experience. Browse our stunning color libraries and order paint samples to ensure you’ve chosen the perfect color. Take advantage of our concierge paint service, where our professionals will help you with color matching, application techniques, and so much more. When you’ve chosen your paint, we’ll ship it straight to your doorstep.

Whether your living room needs a fresh coat of paint or you’re a professional in need of a healthier paint solution, you’ll find the products you require at ECOS. Have questions? We’re at your service! Call us at 866-587-3586 or email [email protected].


* Zero VOC - Conforms to CDPH 01350 (VOC emissions test taken at 14 days).

**No Odor - No traditional paint (polyurethane) odor, which can cause headaches, nausea, and respiratory issues.

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