All paints are comprised of three prime elements which includes pigment that is responsible for its color, a binder that keeps the paint together and a carrier that distributes the binder. A lot of newly manufactured paints can affect the environment and as well as the human health because these paints are produced using these elements that are made up with hazardous chemicals. Cadmium, lead and chromium are often found in pigments, while the binders and carriers uses petrochemicals, solvents, benzene, formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Hazardous, environmentally harmful, chemicals are also used in the newer version of paints as stabilizers, thickeners, preservatives and driers.
The major difference between eco-friendly paints and regular paints is the amount of VOCs. Eco-friendly paints are specially developed with lower levels of these chemicals and some even contains no VOC at all and therefore to be safer for the environment and personal health.
VOCs or volatile organic compounds are natural carbon based chemical compounds that simply evaporates in the air and VOCs are declared to be a major factor of global climate change or also known as global warming. Many of them are extremely toxic and can be associated with numerous health problems such as respiratory disease, headaches, nausea, asthma, dizziness, fatigue, skin disorders, eye irritation, liver and kidney damage and even cancer. If you ever painted indoors without proper ventilation you may have experienced some of these symptoms. In the outdoors, VOCs can pollute the air, that can add to emissions related problems, and decrease the quality of the air. Most environmental Protection Agencies has been working on reducing emissions and improving air quality.Modern chemical paints continue to release volatile organic compounds many years after the paint application. These toxic gases are not just limited to paint but also varnishes, lacquers, stains, strippers, etc and these toxic gases can be emitted in extremely small amounts over the years, long after the paint job is done, VOCs can evaporate into the air for up to five years and they will cause serious trouble. It is also important that we understand the VOCs present long-term problems. Health effects vary depending on the chemicals involved and the duration of the exposure.
Several paint products including paint, paint thinners, and solvents contain Benzene and toxic carcinogens. Benzene which is also considered as VOC is a known human carcinogen. Exposure to benzene can result in headache, dizziness, a fast heart rate, tremors, drowsiness, and confusion. Benzene can affect the bone marrow by decreasing red blood cells (anemia) or by decreasing platelets, which causes excessive bleeding. Exposure to benzene is known to cause leukemia and other cancers of the blood-forming organs in humans.
The effects of benzene exposure during pregnancy are not known. Research institutions are currently conducting studies to determine health effects related to prenatal exposures to VOCs.
More and more concerns are arising with regards to the effect of chemical paints on the human health and the environment have resulted to a growing market of non-hazardous paints. Environmental regulations have obliged conventional paint companies to significantly reduce their VOC content, and most of the bigger paint companies are now starting to offer one or more varieties of non-toxic paints. But, a lot of these still contain VOC solvents, chemical pigments and fungicides.
This simply implies that regular paints have higher amounts of VOCs and that they toxic and harmful not just to the human health but also for the environment.
Eco friendly paints also known as non toxic paint are often called Low-VOC, No-VOC, VOC-Free, these paints are odourless, odour-free and green, natural or organic paints. No standards are set for defining these labels, and known to be misused widely just for marketing purposes. To help buyers make wise and informed decisions on their paint purchases, different ecological labels were developed by different countries to signify that the paint has met certain environmental requirements, in accordance with respective government regulations. These eco-labels are seen as logos on paint cans, and include the European Eco-Label, Blue Angel in Germany, and Green Seal and Greenguard in the USA. In the UK, VOC labels are used, and indicate the content of VOCs using one of five classifications: Minimal (0-0.29%), Low, Medium, High and Very High (VOC content greater than 50%).
Low-VOC paints tend to use water as a carrier instead of petrochemical solvents, and to keep their emissions just in a minimum level. Many conventional paints have attained relatively low VOC levels. No-VOC or VOC-Free paints may still contain very low levels of VOCs in their pigments or additives. Although lowering the VOC content is a move in the right direction, it is still unsure whether either of these paint types can be assessed as non-toxic.
Natural or organic paints are the only real non-toxic paint since they are produced without VOCs, and are known to be made from natural ingredients such as water, vegetable oils, plant dyes, and natural minerals. The primary binders used in natural paints are: linseed oil that is from flax seeds, clay, lime, and milk protein. Lime and milk paints gives an authentic period look. Antique restoration projects often use lime and milk paint. Chalk is used as an extender to thicken paint; turpentine that are distilled from pine trees is used as a solvent; essential oils from citrus fruits like d-limonene are used as a solvent and fragrance; and natural minerals and earth pigments are used as colorants.
The main advantage of using of natural paints are:
Non-toxic - no hazardous smell and emissions or no harmful effects on health. This is important for allergic and chemically sensitive people who cannot tolerate chemical paints.
Environmentally Friendly - use renewable resources; they are also biodegradable and can even be composted.
Micro-Porous - this will allow walls and surfaces to breathe, it prevents condensation and damp problems, and it also reduces indoor associated allergens. They are also less prone to paint flaking, peeling and blistering.
The only disadvantage is that natural paints can be more expensive because they are made on a smaller scale, however this situation is changing as natural paints are acknowledged by many people nowadays. Natural paints can also take longer to dry, sometimes it takes up to 24 hours or more and there is less selection of a colors to choose from. Natural mineral pigments tend to produce paints that come in pastel shades only,and this is the reason why some natural paint companies are using synthetic pigments to create a more extensive range of colors.