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Protect yourself from paint poison

That fresh paint smell could be hazardous to your health

Posted: October 24, 2008 8:23 p.m.
Updated: December 26, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Brandon Dell'Olio examines a gallon of Aura paint at Sand Canyon Paint & Hardware in Canyon Country. Aura is a low-VOC paint that is more health-conscious and environmentally friendly than standard oil-based paint.

Ahhh, the smell of fresh paint! I always loved it, didn't you? Taking a snootful of air in a freshly-painted room always seemed new-life-affirming.

Unfortunately, it was actually the opposite. That snootful contained volatile organic compounds - which are, basically, poisons.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency Web site, "Volatile organic compounds are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids. VOCs include a variety of chemicals, some of which may have short- and long-term adverse health effects. Concentrations of many VOCs are consistently higher indoors (up to 10 times higher) than outdoors. VOCs are emitted by a wide array of products, numbering in the thousands. Examples include: paints and lacquers, paint strippers, cleaning supplies, pesticides, building materials and furnishings, office equipment such as copiers and printers, correction fluids and carbonless copy paper, graphics and craft materials including glues and adhesives, permanent markers, and photographic solutions."

The South Coast Air Quality Management District, which has jurisdiction in our area, has adopted regulations (Rule 1113) regarding "architectural coatings." The regulations cover a wide variety of such coatings, but the two that apply to paint in the home are for "flats" and "nonflat coatings."

According to Paul Dell'Olio, owner of Sand Canyon Paint & Hardware in Canyon Country, flats refers to flat paint, and nonflats refers to "anything shinier than flats," such as gloss or semi-gloss.

Dell'Olio has owned the store for 13 years and both he and his son Brandon know their paint. Paul Dell'Olio pointed out that the VOC limits in our area for both flats and nonflat coatings are currently 50 grams per liter. "Fifty is low," he said. "Ten years ago it was 250. That's a big drop."

Brandon Dell'Olio explained that the regulations are "taking the oil-based paints away, which is inconvenient, but good for the environment."

"VOCs affect the environment," Paul Dell'Olio said. "They are solvents in the air that affect the ozone layer."

So, unless you get paint from old stock or from out of the area, you'll get paint with no more than 50 grams per liter of VOCs.

But some folks are never satisfied.

Low VOC paint
Those with an extra dose of environmental consciousness, or those with one or more family members having a hyper-sensitivity to VOCs, can purchase low VOC paints. One-such is Aura, from Benjamin Moore.

"Low VOC paints, like Aura, have 10-15 grams per liter of VOCs," Paul Dell'Olio said. "With the majority of people I deal with who are looking for low VOCs, it is because they have allergic reactions - maybe they've gotten sick before."

Aura, which sells for $54.95 per gallon at Sand Canyon Paint & Hardware, comes with several other benefits. According to Brandon Dell'Olio, it has no odor and is very durable.

Paul Dell'Olio explained that the durability comes from the "color-lock technology," where the pigment is locked inside the resin molecule. "When you scrub it, there is minimal color rub-off, even with very deep colors," he said. He quoted the Aura mantra, which is "any finish, any color, anywhere." That means the paint is suitable for high moisture areas, even showers, without having to go to gloss or semi-gloss.

Brandon Dell'Olio noted that Aura is self-priming, which means you don't need to pre-coat your surface with a primer. "It dries in minutes and you can re-coat in an hour," he said. He added that it is mildew resistant and guaranteed to cover any existing color in no more than two coats.

Though Sand Canyon Paint & Hardware doesn't have it yet, new from Benjamin Moore is Natura. This "premium interior waterborne paint" has zero VOCs and is virtually odorless. It will be available in flat, eggshell and semi-gloss. Brandon Dell'Olio said that it will be perfect for those who really want to be sure they have no VOCs, such as those with a new baby.

Lest you freak out about the old paint on your walls not being low-VOC, you can relax. Paul Dell'Olio emphasized that the issue with VOCs is mostly during the paint-curing process. "Once the product is cured, it's not giving off VOCs anymore," he said. In reference to Aura, he said, "In one week you get a pretty decent cure."

But he agreed, "That new paint smell is the VOCs."

Sand Canyon Paint & Hardware is located at 16680 Soledad Canyon Rd. in Canyon Country. You can call them for your paint advice at (661) 252-1572.


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