Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Paint It Black

A number of people have written to me asking about the risks of using enamel paint.
I used to work with enamel for intense periods, mostly indoors. For nearly a decade, I have painted, on average, 12 hours a day, six days a week, with it and while I might not have cared about the risks it posed when I was younger, I didn't really know too much about them.
Now I do and it scares the crap out of me.
Enamel paint sets slowly as the chemical drying and hardening agents evaporate, creating a brittle, glossy finish. These toxic agents are inhaled, absorbed by clothing and settle on skin which, of course, also absorbs them. I use a respirator with chemical filter pads but it can't scrub the air completely. The mask partially obscures vision, and after a few hours use, condensation forms on the inside. Moisture drips, or is 'breathed' out, onto the paint - it can ruin an entire coat.
Recurrent ill effects that I've experienced recently, all attributable to the paint, are asthma, bronchitis, skin sores, rashes and red, burn-like marks, bleeding ulcers inside my nose, stomach pains, vomiting, dry, sore eyes, and general itchiness. Worse, my doctor is concerned that my general sensitivity to chemicals will increase to include those which are considered harmless. This is happening already: last time I filled my car with unleaded gas, I vomited.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: "Eye and throat or lung irritation, headaches, dizziness, and vision problems are among the immediate symptoms that some people have experienced soon after exposure to some chemicals. In professional painters who are exposed to high levels of paint vapors for long periods of time, some chemicals in paints have damaged the nervous system, liver, and kidneys. Some chemicals cause cancer or reproductive and developmental effects in laboratory animals. To avoid any health risks for themselves and their unborn babies, pregnant women should avoid undertaking painting projects and should limit their time in freshly painted rooms, especially when oil-based paints are being used."
As for the turpentine
used to thin enamel paint (and to clean brushes):
"It is a skin, eye, mucous membrane, and upper respiratory tract irritant in humans. It may also cause skin sensitization and central nervous system, gastrointestinal, and urinary tract effects... The signs and symptoms of acute inhalation exposure to turpentine may include irritation of the skin, eyes, mucous membranes, and upper respiratory tract; salivation, cough, chest pain, and shortness of breath; confusion, headache, dizziness, nausea, anxiety, painful urination, bloody urination, or decreased urine output... signs and symptoms of chronic exposure to turpentine include dermatitis or eczema, with irritation, redness, swelling, and small or large fluid-filled blisters on the skin. Workers exposed to terpenes (a principal component of turpentine) for longer than 5 years may also be at greater risk of developing lung cancer."

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