Most paints contain chemicals called volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. They give paint its consistency and evaporate as it dries. VOCs can cause headaches, eye irritation, nausea, fatigue, and dizziness. Long-term exposure can damage the central nervous system, liver, and kidneys. Pregnant women, children, and people who handle wet paint often are at greater risk. Persons with chronic lung disease may have more symptoms.
Because of those effects, it is best to do painting projects when you can open doors and windows while painting.
When buying paint, read labels to identify low-VOC paints, those with less than 50 grams per liter. Adding color to paint can increase VOC content, so be sure to consult your paint vendor.
While painting, air out your workspace by opening windows and using an exhaust fan to draw fumes from the home. Use protective gear specified on the paint label, such as gloves, goggles, and a respirator with the proper filter. Dust masks do not protect against VOCs. Continue to air out the painted areas for two to three days after painting.
Take extra precaution if you are using an oil-based paint. The health risks are greater than with latex paints and there is an added risk of fire. Always remove sources of flames and sparks, including cigarettes, from the work area.
Store leftover paint in the original container by covering the can opening with plastic wrap, tightly securing the lid, and storing it upside down. You can also store it in a smaller container for future touchups. Clearly label containers with the contents and date. Store paint and other household hazardous products out of reach of children.
If you dont want to keep leftover paint, donate it to community groups, schools, or local theaters. Or, list it on www.2good2toss.com.
HazoHouse at the Waste and Recovery Center in Lacey does not accept latex paint manufactured after 1989. They will take oil-based paints and latex paints manufactured before 1989 (which may contain lead or mercury). Read labels carefully before taking paint to HazoHouse. Learn more at www.ThurstonSolidWaste.org.
You must dry out latex paint before disposing it in the garbage. Wet paint can spill inside the garbage truck and onto our roadways.
How to dry out latex paint:
If container is less than one-quarter full, remove lid in a safe, dry, and well-ventilated area to air dry.
If container is more than one-quarter full, open lid and solidify the paint with kitty litter, grass clippings, sand, shredded paper, or drying agents found at paint stores.
Once paint has solidified or is unable to spill (the consistency of oatmeal), place the can with the lid off in the trash.
Now that you know how to paint responsibly, theres no excuse not to get started on that project.
Dr. Diana T. Yu is the Health Officer for Thurston and Mason counties. Reach her at 360-867-2501 or YUD@co.thurston.wa.us