Expert Advice: Promoting Safer Painting Projects


While painting is a great way to add creativity and color to your home project, choosing the safest painting products are also important to consider. Just because a product is sold in stores, we have a false sense of security that it is safe. Unlike medications, which are put through rigorous safety trials prior to consumer use, most products are sold first and tested or regulated later, or not at all.

Paint and paint thinners are now receiving a lot of attention because of two chemicals being called into question due to rising health and safety concerns. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing a ban on methylene chloride (DCM) and N-methylpyrrolidone (NMP) which can put household members, painters and bystanders at risk for harm to the nervous system and long-term exposure can harm the lungs and liver and increase the risk of cancer.

Pregnant women and children may work on creative DIY projects and tolerate the fumes, not realizing that they are most at risk, along with painters, whose occupation already places them at risk for falls, breathing problems, eye irritations, and heavy metal exposures. The Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition, made up of over 400 organizations including Physicians for Social Responsibility and Environmental Community Action, supports this proposed ban and has been on the forefront of chemical safety issues that can have adverse effects on our health.

As a pediatrician, I take advantage of well-child visits as an opportunity to provide safety guidance and prevention advice to children and their families. However, chemical exposures are traditionally not included, but represent a growing threat to our health and to child development. This form of health protection from chemicals primarily takes place on a legislative level, ensuring that there is compliance with our federal chemical policy known as the Toxic Substances Control Act, or TSCA, and also on a market level, ensuring that retailers refrain from selling products that contain toxic ingredients and seek out more eco-friendly alternatives.

There is a global movement towards going green, and some manufacturers are making paints that are low in lead and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and paint strippers that are citrus-based or made of a soy gel.

Using safety precautions are still going to be your primary defense in keeping you and your household safe from toxic chemical exposures, which is why I strongly recommend proper ventilation during these painting projects which include opening windows and using portable fans and air purifiers as well as wearing gloves, protective clothing, respirators and safety goggles.

Limit projects to a few hours and consider hiring a professional for longer or more extensive work. Leftover paint materials should be stored in a cool place for reuse, recycled at a local paint charity or business, or disposed of in a responsible manner consistent with local laws.

These preventive protections may seem like a lot, but they are a worthy investment because the fewer toxic chemicals you are exposed to, the healthier you are. Eating an apple a day is ok, but being an educated consumer is really the best way to keep the doctor away.

Read here for more info on the proposed EPA ban.

Thanks to Dr. Lynn Ringenberg, MD for contributing to this article.

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