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Claudia S. Miller » voc

Posts tagged ‘voc’

Nothin’ But Blue Sky

Photo of Laura MacCleery

Guest blogger Laura MacCleery describes her do-it-yourself room painting project and things you should know before painting a room. Laura is a lawyer, mother and self-described “squeaky wheel in search of a spoke.” She writes commentary at Laura’s Rules. Her post first appeared there on Feb. 1.

By Laura MacCleery

What to do with a low-ceilinged, windowless basement room? Give it to the toddler, of course …

But then, it just screams for some cheer. When my friend Lisa showed me the charming mural she had painted on her son’s wall in honor of his adoption, it was inspiring. She told me how she made the cute and life-like clouds using nothing more than a sea sponge and some water-based tempera paint.

I could do that, I thought. So sometime in my feverish, flu-like state, after days of uselessly prowling the house over the holidays, I determined to accomplish some little thing, at least.

The most manageable (and thoughtless) project on my list was introducing a little whimsy to the “playroom.” It mainly functions as a toy storage area these days, given Maya’s inability to be in the basement by her lonesome. But I have hopes, my friends, that someday she will be capable of independent play, and so this is for that day.

First, because it’s me and this blog and all, I must point out what you know already: paint is notoriously toxic. This is a particular concern in a poorly ventilated basement. As the wonderful Diane MacEachern of Big Green Purse (another Takoma Park green blogger!), writes:

Conventional paint contains many volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, that “outgas” and escape into the air after they are applied. Indoors, these VOCs cause headaches, nausea, achy bones, and general discomfort. Outdoors, they contribute to smog and air pollution.

And they smell nasty, which can’t be good. The VOCs include chemicals like terpenes, formaldehyde, acrolein, phthalates, glycol, toluene, methylene chloride, styrene, trichloroethylene, xylenes, and benzene, among others. Any one of these is enough to make me gag, personally. A terrific new guide to building a non-toxic nursery, out just today from our friends at Healthy Child, Healthy World, provides very helpful information about paint types suitable for a nursery or other rooms on p. 16 of their new, interactive ebook and less toxic options. They also have 7 helpful tips for healthier painting. Basically, the best way to go is real zero-VOC paints (i.e., ones that completely and verifiably lack toxics or solvents), or with natural, organic or milk-based paints.

Our local hardware store only stocks the zero-VOC kind, but they at least have a really good brand — Mythic, which I have used on several rooms in our house with excellent results. Mythic is a “real” zero-VOC paint, with no toxics like lead or other known toxins in it, and is also solvent free and it goes on beautifully.

In fact, it’s so clean, it doesn’t need a warning label like most paints. (Lullaby Paints appears to be another great option, but I have not used them myself.) Even using Mythic, I set up a fan to speed the paint drying process, open a window when possible, and do not use the room for at least several days.

Before painting, you should also be aware that many, if not most, paints labeled “zero-VOC” can be problematic, because the colorants still contain VOCs and once they are added, then the paint is “zero-VOC” no longer.

In fact, the Federal Trade Commission just sued Sherwin Williams over false claims on this issue, and won, sort of. The companies now at least have to say, somewhere, that the zero-VOC claim applies only to the base paint and that the VOC levels can be impacted by the dyes. From The Consumerist:

In truth and in fact, in numerous instances, Pure Performance paints do not contain zero VOCs after color is added,” alleged the FTC.

To settle these claims by the agency, both paint companies are prohibited from claiming their paints contain “zero VOCs,” unless, after tinting, they have a VOC level of zero grams per liter.

The companies can continue claiming “zero VOC” if they “clearly and prominently disclose” that the “zero VOC” statement applies only
to the base paint, and that depending on the consumer’s color choice, the VOC level may rise.

At any rate, back to the fun part. For the playroom, I first painted one wall and a strip of a wall in a bright, sunny yellow. One coat was enough to do it. Then, I covered the ceiling in a light blue paint left over from a sample I considered using for Maya’s upstairs room (Ocean Falls was the color). (Yes, her bedroom is blue. And lovely.)

I didn’t bother taping for the ceiling, as the indistinct edges add to the effect. Mythic is also forgiving; a wet sponge used soon after painting will clean up any messes.

Then, using the sea sponge and a pool of paint in the pan, I painted swirls in large circles across the ceiling with a slightly darker blue, called Peace River.

Last, I added white clouds around the lights and all over the ceiling in various sizes using the sponge dipped in Crayola white tempera paint. This can also be easily fixed with a wet sponge while the paint remains wet. I tried to leave a little extra paint in some places for a slight texture.

I was pleased with the result, which adds a dreamy quality to a small, boxy room. And Maya likes it too!

The Best Smell is No Smell

Fragrances are among the most frequent and potent symptom triggers for people who report developing chemical intolerances following an acute or chronic exposure such as to pesticides or indoor air pollutants. Sometimes specific formulations (air fresheners, fabric softeners, etc.) or brands are especially problematic, with individuals reporting headaches, impaired concentration, confusion, sudden mood changes, fatigue, etc.

Anne Steinemann at the University of Washington and her colleagues recently analyzed 25 top-selling fragranced consumer products. The paper, which can be accessed here, is an eye-opener. Using GC/MS (gas chromatography/mass spectrometry), Steinemann found that these products contain an average of 17 chemicals each, almost all of which do not appear on any label, and many of which are known to be toxic. A single fragrance may contain 100 or more VOCs. This strongly suggests that we need to find unscented alternatives for cleaning our homes, our laundry and ourselves.

Q: Why don’t the names of these chemicals at least appear on the product labels? A: Manufacturers are not required to disclose fragrances in cleaning supplies, air fresheners or laundry products. These are regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Likewise, the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates personal care products, does not require listing of ingredients used in fragrances, “even though a single “fragrance” in a product can be a mixture of up to several hundred ingredients.” Ms. Emily Sohn, writer for Discovery News, asked me to comment on the significance of this new study. Read the article here.

As an allergist, I know that individuals’ responses to exposures vary widely. The problem is, we can’t know a priori whether or in whom a scent is going to cause nasal congestion, a headache or impair the ability to concentrate-at home, at work, at school or while driving. We do know that a sizable percentage of the population responds adversely to various fragrances and other low-level exposures.

Fortunately, there is something we can do. We can stop buying fragranced products, instead choosing those that are clearly labeled “fragrance-free.” Tell the managers at places you and your family frequent, from the grocery store to restaurants to your child’s school, that you want fragrance-free products used because of the hazardous chemicals found in many fragranced products. There is no way to know how toxic a specific fragranced product may actually be, and as Steinemann found, simply choosing products that are “green” or “natural” is no guarantee of their safety. Fragranced “green” products, she reported, also emitted volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which can irritate the airways and cause multi-system symptoms in susceptible individuals.

Individuals with chemical intolerances can benefit greatly from fragrance-free policies at school or work and from eliminating fragrances at home. Unfortunately, while fragrance-free policies can help protect building occupants and custodial staff from harmful chemicals, one of the greatest sources of fragrances indoors is other people. Many people start off their day by applying a variety of fragranced products, which then volatilize into the air throughout the day. This personal “out-gassing” is worst in the morning, and it can be debilitating for chemically intolerant individuals if they must start their day sitting next to someone at a meeting or in class, inhaling complex mixtures from fabric softeners, personal care products, and cologne.

Fragrance intolerance may be an important sentinel symptom for Toxicant-induced Loss of Tolerance (TILT). There is a close anatomical relationship between the nose and the limbic (mood and memory) part of the brain. People tend to notice when a fragrance that was once loved now makes them feel ill. In my work with Gulf War I veterans, I met a soldier who sent his spouse their favorite fragrance while still he was overseas. After he returned from Iraq, she went to pick him up from the airport wearing that special scent. During the several-hour drive back home, he became so sick that he begged her never to wear it again.

I firmly believe that “Your right to wear fragrance ends at my nose,” a phrase adapted from the days when smoking indoors was still common. But, regardless of who is right, the best strategy when seated next to a heavily fragranced person is to move. It is tiresome to feel you are “on the run,” from invisible vapors of fragrance, but as more people gently explain that fragrance causes headaches, asthma, burning eyes, or nausea, perhaps both policies and personal choices will change.

One woman I know has recently been trying a new approach. When she sits next to individuals who aren’t wearing discernible fragrances, she thanks them, saying, “I want to thank you for not wearing fragrance. I often have to get up and move because other people’s perfume and laundry products can give me a headache.”

It’s a great conversation starter.

Remember: Fresh air is the best air freshener, and the best smell is no smell!


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