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Go green with an eco-friendly stroke of paint

By | August 11th 2011

By Santosh Pawar

Some of the ingredients used to formulate paint contain Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC), which can be characterised by the strong odour of a freshly painted surface.

Generally, gloss (oil based) paints tend to have a much higher concentration of VOC compared to emulsion (water based) paints.

Worldwide efforts in recent years have been geared towards significantly lowering levels of VOCs due to costs, environmental concerns and evolving regulations requiring lower levels of emission. Once paint has been produced with reduced quantities of VOC, then it is termed as green paint.

What exactly are VOCs?

VOCs are emitted by a wide range of products, such as paints and lacquers, dry cleaning chemicals, pesticides, correction fluid and permanent markers. They are harmful to the environment. Thus, the notion that only paints produce VOCs is incorrect.

While paint fumes are not healthy, the more dangerous components of paints are VOCs. These compounds can be readily inhaled and when absorbed in significant amounts can result in eye and respiratory irritation, headache and dizziness, among others.

Some studies show that exposure to paint fumes can also increase the risk of asthma. In short, VOCs in paints pollute the indoor as well as outdoor air, water and soil and also have adverse effects on human health.

Similarly, it is said that VOCs are ten times higher indoors than outdoors and 1,000 times higher on freshly applied coats of paint.

Green paints have lower levels of VOCs, but it is virtually impossible to completely remove all VOC components in paint. Therefore, the claim that some paints are zero VOC is only a marketing gimmick.

Similarly, it is also possible to find emulsion (water based) paint being termed as low VOC or green. That is untrue as long as the components making it have not been adjusted to lower the VOC levels. Therefore, water-based paints are not automatically eco-friendly.

Safety precautions

Ideally, to avoid the effects of paint fumes, you should leave your home until the paint has completely dried up, although this isn’t practical for everyone. The dangerous period is when the paint is drying up. This is when these unhealthy compounds are slowly released into the air and the fumes spread to other parts of the house.

Green paints are safer

By choosing green paints and applying appropriate precautions, you can reduce the potential side effects of paint fumes to you and your family. It is particularly recommended to use eco-friendly paints in buildings with children in the vicinity.

Low VOC paint is especially recommended for children, because children are vulnerable to health problems from VOC. Being exposed to these compounds can cause breathing problems and other health issues in a child. However, the best solution would be to ensure children do not stay in a freshly painted house or one that is being painted.

So next time you have an option between conventional and eco-friendly paints, go ahead and buy the latter as you can be sure you are decreasing health risks on yourself and family. In addition, green paints are increasingly the approved option for green buildings, which are being built with materials that are less harmful to the environment.

It is also good to note that although green paints were exorbitantly priced initially, it is now possible to get green paints in the Kenyan market at exactly the same price as conventional paints and so this will not dent your pockets any further. In April, the Duracoat eco-friendly range of paints was introduced into the market.

The writer is Head of Research

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