Do it yourself (DIY) projects are popular for today’s homeowners, and many hardware stores have a huge variety of products and professional guidance for making these projects a reality. Often, working with chemicals such as paint, wood primer, paint strippers, and more are involved, but DIY workers should be aware that health hazards present themselves with such materials. Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, are an unfortunate reality of working with these materials, and the health hazards can be mild to severe. The good news is that with the right forewarning and safety precautions, any DIY worker can easily avoid these hazards. Picking out paint or primer safe for the home can be a snap.
What Are the Hazards?
Picking out paint, varnish, or primer without knowing what is in it can be a possible health hazards. Many such products and many more today contain VOCs, which are chemicals such as benzene or formaldehyde, and these substances can cause all sorts of health problems if inhaled at a high enough concentration. More specifically, the CBC Marketplace released a report stating that VOC levels over 500 ppb (parts per billion) can easily constitute a health hazard for those with chemical sensitivities. A recent study for the effects of VOCs found that when participants worked six days in an indoor environment with lowered levels of VOCs, cognitive scores were, on average, 101% higher than those of people working in normal environments. In fact, VOCs can cause nervous system damage, nausea, and fatigue, and more serious symptoms such as kidney damage may result from prolonged exposure. A health study conducted in Sweden found that PGE-exposure nearly doubled the likelihood of children with multiple allergy symptoms developing additional allergies.
Working to Reduce VOCs
What can be done to prevent unhealthy exposure to VOCs and similar noxious fumes? For one thing, anyone doing home DIY work can figure out what items he or she needs ahead of time, then research different brands online or at a hardware store and take note of what chemicals are in the materials, from paint to paint thinner to primers. In fact, some paints or other materials with reduced levels of VOCs in them will have a message saying as much on the label, and picking out paint with such reduced levels of VOCs goes a long way to preventing exposure. This can be critical for indoor paint jobs, where painting walls, wooden furniture, painting concrete floors, or especially finding paint safe for baby furniture. Other home improvement substances can work to stain concrete, and these chemicals may also contain VOCs, so a consumer is advised to adjust accordingly.
What else can be done to lower VOCs exposure? When painting indoors, for example, opening as many windows as possible and running fans can circulate air and bring in fresh air from outside while carrying away VOCs loaded air. Purchasing a breathing apparatus may also be done if so desired. In addition, even rugs and carpeting can contain VOCs, so limiting exposure can be done when a buyer allows such a product to air out, staying outdoors, until finally bringing it inside to install.
Allergies can also be worsened by VOCs, and picking out paint and other materials accordingly can go a long way to preventing asthma attacks and other conditions. Many people already have an outlook based on allergy avoidance, so working to avoid VOCs aggravating allergies can be intuitive. In fact, the Survey Research Institute at Cornell University performed a survey and found that 83% of travelers would, if given the option, choose an allergy-friendly room during hotel and motel stays. Similarly, it has been determined that organics in the are often two to five times more concentrated in indoor air than outdoors, so someone with allergies may account for this while visiting a building, and a DIY worker can take precautions to prevent unsafe VOCs buildup in the house’s air.