Posts Tagged ‘home improvement’

Environmentally friendly Zero VOC paint

Traditional paints contain VOC’s (volatile organic compounds), which is the “smell” in paints and are toxic to humans and the environment. VOC’s contribute to air pollution and global warming; and can contaminate ground water and soil. It becomes a problem in homes where VOC’s can be present at as much as 1000 times greater than out door air (typically after painting or paint stripping)!

The EPA says this about the health effects of VOC exposure:
Eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches, loss of coordination, nausea; damage to liver, kidney, and central nervous system. Some organics can cause cancer in animals; some are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans.  Key signs or symptoms associated with exposure to VOCs include conjunctival irritation, nose and throat discomfort, headache, allergic skin reaction, dyspnea, declines in serum cholinesterase levels, nausea, emesis, epistaxis, fatigue, dizziness.

The ability of organic chemicals to cause health effects varies greatly from those that are highly toxic, to those with no known health effect. As with other pollutants, the extent and nature of the health effect will depend on many factors including level of exposure and length of time exposed. Eye and respiratory tract irritation, headaches, dizziness, visual disorders, and memory impairment are among the immediate symptoms that some people have experienced soon after exposure to some organics. At present, not much is known about what health effects occur from the levels of organics usually found in homes. Many organic compounds are known to cause cancer in animals; some are suspected of causing, or are known to cause, cancer in humans.  For more information on health effects, see EPA’s Substance Registry System on VOCs.

We recently painted several rooms in our house using a low-VOC paint. And zero VOC paint is becoming more popular and accessible. We actually used Benjamin Moore’s Harmony paint, which is zero-VOC but because we did color-matching, the tint added a small amount of VOCs. So watch for this if you truly want a zero VOC paint. The great thing was the odor was very minimal and we easily slept in our room the night it was painted! It was actually odd not having days of over-powering paint smell. We still ventilated the areas we painted.

These paints are just as good and durable as traditional paints. There are only 2 cons: there can be limited paint options because the colors are premixed which is how they are able to produce a zero VOC paint. Low-VOC paints can do color-matching. The other con is it is a little more expensive. A gallon is typically $35-$50.

Zero VOC paints include:
Bio Sheild 
Yolo Colorhouse (premixed colors)
Mythic
Harmony by Benjamin Moore
Natura by Benjamin Moore (available on the west coast, nation-wide in Spring 2009)
Freshaire Choice, available exclusively at Home Depot 
Olympic has a zero-VOC line

Low-VOC paints include:
Aura by Benjamin Moore

GreenSeal is an organization that certifies zero- and low-VOC paints. You can view their list here:

Earth Easy has an even wider list of zero-, low- and eco-friendly natural paints.

The Today Show did a segment on green painting this morning. Check it out here.

Besides in paint, VOC’s are found in many common household products including paint strippers, and other solvents; wood preservatives; aerosol sprays; cleansers and disinfectants; moth repellents and air fresheners; stored fuels and automotive products; hobby supplies; dry-cleaned clothing.

Related Articles
Popular green products test positive for toxicant
Cloned meat, it’s what’s for dinner
Is Horizon milk really organic?

CFL Lightbulbs Contain Mercury

Parents need to exercise caution when using the energy saving CFL lightbulbs. They contain mercury, which produces the light, but in an amount that can be harmful to children and even a fetus. Exposure to mercury can harm the nervous system. In this Maine study, even after the mercury from these broken bulbs was cleaned up, high levels of mercury were still present. Here is an excerpt from the article.

“The study recommended that if a compact fluorescent breaks, get children and pets out of the room. Ventilate the room. Never use a vacuum, even on a rug, to clean up a broken compact fluorescent lamps. Instead, use stiff paper such as index cards and tape to pick up pieces, and then wipe the area with a wet wipe or damp paper towel. If there are young children or pregnant woman in the house, consider cutting out the piece of carpet where the lamp broke as a precaution. Place the shards and cleanup debris in a glass jar with a screw top and remove the jar from the house.”

“According to the US Department of Energy, if every household replaced just one light bulb with a compact fluorescent, the United States would save more than $600 million each year in energy costs and prevent greenhouse gas emissions equal to 800,000 cars.

But compact fluorescents can contain from 1 to 30 milligrams of mercury, according to the Mercury Policy Project. The nonprofit cited a New Jersey study that estimated that about 2 to 4 tons of the element are released into the environment in the United States each year from compact fluorescents. That number is expected to grow as sales do. In comparison, about 48 tons of mercury is released into the environment by power plants each year, according to federal statistics.”

My comments: I am torn because I do care about the environment, but mercury is not safe. I have an active 23 month old and a lot of lamps. Plus, plants who manufacture CFLs put a lot of mercury vapors into the air and I do not want to support that. Additionally, disposing of these can be tricky. Many states are making it illegal to dispose of in the regular trash and are setting up recyling locations for CFL bulbs.

What to do? If you use or plan to use CFL light bulbs, do not use them in lamps where there is potential for the lamp to get knocked over, breaking the bulb. Be sure to handle the bulb with care and screw it in by the base and not the bulb itself (screwing by the bulb could cause it to break — good to know). And be sure to properly dispose of the used or broken bulb — find a location where you can recycle it, do not toss it in the regular trash where it will end up in a landfill, break and send harmful mercury into the local water.

Hey manufacturers, make one that is actually safe for humans and the environment, and as effective and I will gladly change every lightbulb in my house — not just 1. For now, I will use the regular bulbs and turn off lights when not in use.