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HayfeverWhat's in Your Paint?

Looking to tidy up your home with a fresh lick of paint? Before you break out the paintbrushes, think about the type of products you'll be using. Are they really the best choice for you and your family?

When It Comes to paint nasties, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are the big baddies to steer clear of, especially if anyone in your family suffers from allergies or asthma. VOCs are chemicals that become airborne – and therefore breathable – at room temperature.

H2O is the Way to Go
Water-based products are less harmful to use, breathe and dispose of than their oil-based enamel counterparts. Water-based acrylic paints and finishes can still contain VOCs, so check the label for the VOC level (or the percentage of hydrocarbon solvent), or look for an Environmental Choice NZ label. To be licensed to use the label, paint must – among other things – not contain more than 25% hydrocarbon solvents by weight.

Natural, plant-based paints and finishes are another good option. They contain plant oils based on citrus or tree oils and natural turpentine and release low levels of non-toxic VOCs.

Solvent-based products such as oil-based enamel paints, and some varnishes, can release significant levels of VOCs during and after application. Scarily, polyurethane can give off VOCs for years, and can cause respiratory and skin conditions. Handle with care!

As well as being used to clean brushes, mineral turpentine may be used as a solvent in the paint and as a paint thinner during use. Once again, handle with care. Turps can contain benzene, which is carcinogenic.

How will I know?
If you're not sure what to look for in the ingredient list, opt for paints and products endorsed by independent schemes such as Environmental Choice New Zealand. These products have low levels of VOCs and hydrocarbon solvents; and no heavy metals, formaldehyde or harmful solvents. See whether your product makes the cut at www. The Asthma Foundation's Sensitive Choice programme is another trustworthy endorsement to look out for. They encourage manufacturers and suppliers to offer products and services that are asthma and allergy friendly. To find out more, see www.asthmafoundation.

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Issue: Summer 2015