Harmful Effects Of VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) In Paint

Chemical Sensitivity and VOC Paints.

In February we were having some paintwork done at home. The painter did not follow our instructions and decided to use VOC paints instead of non-toxic based paints. Our indoor air quality dropped due to VOC exposure.

But, it was too late. Even though we stopped him straight away when we returned, the effects on myself were horrendous. It’s like kryptonite to me. Lyme disease has given me a chemical sensitivity to the effects of breathing paint fumes. I was laid up for a few days, it’s called ‘sick building syndrome’.

When a room is painted the room could take months to dry, and even when it’s dry it will still off-gas toxic fumes.

In our article today we are going to cover; 

  • Harmful Effects Of Paint On Human Health 
  • List Of Common VOCs
  • Manufacturers of Consumer Products that have high concentrations of VOCs

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) include; Organic Solvents and Organic Chemicals

Just because they’re organic, it does not mean they cannot cause health problems. Not just paint but nearly all, Household Cleaning Products, Dry Cleaning Products, Paint Thinners, Paint Strippers, Varnishes, Cosmetics, Glues, BBQ fuel, Pesticides, Aerosol Sprays, Building Materials, Office Equipment, Carpets, curtains and Upholstery give off VOCs. This is called ‘off-gassing’.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

VOCs can be emitted from liquids or solids and they include a large variety of chemicals. Some of the chemicals can cause short term and long term adverse health problems. VOCs are emitted by literally thousands of household products.

So when our friendly painter said to me, ‘What’s your problem, Dom, it’s only paint’. He got a few choice words, let me tell you all. And here’s why;

After painting, VOCs can be up to 1,000 times higher indoors than outdoor fresh air levels.

So What are the Effects of VOCs on Human Health

VOCs from Paints are up there on the list of most harmful toxins to humans, animals, plants and aquatic life. But what are the hazards of volatile organic compounds in paint.

Common Signs or Symptoms of exposure to VOCs:

  • Conjunctival Irritation
  • Nose and Throat issues
  • Headache
  • Skin Allergy
  • Dyspnea
  • Nausea and Vomiting 
  • Epistaxis (Nose Bleeds)
  • Fatigue and Dizziness

Harmful Effects of Paint on Human Health

We are going to take a look at 2 well-known brands sold in the UK; Crown, and Dulux. We will pick a product, show ingredients and the health concerns or symptoms.


Dulux is owned by AkzoNobel a Dutch chemical giant valued at €19bn with a global sales turnover of around €10bn annually.

Product: Dulux Paint

Ingredient: 1,2-benzisothiazol-3 (2H)-one – (BIT)

Eyes – May cause severe irritation, a corneal injury which may result in permanent impaired vision or blindness.

Skin – Severe irritation, with pain and local redness. BIT has caused allergic skin reactions in humans. A possible skin sensitizer.

Inhalation – May cause severe irritation to the respiratory tract (nose and throat) and lungs.

Ingestion – BIT is harmful if swallowed, could result in burns. Aspiration into the lungs may occur causing vomiting, tissue damage or lung injury.

Repeated Exposure (Off-Gassing) – Not anticipated to cause significant adverse effects.

BIT is unlikely to be carcinogenic or cause birth defects.  

Ingredient: C(M)IT/MIT(3.1)

Irritating to the respiratory tract, and has been linked to lung issues. Can cause allergic reactions and is a possible neurotoxin. Can also cause sensitization with skin (inflammation).

Extremely toxic to aquatic life and may cause long term adverse effects on the aquatic environment.

There are a number of different chemical names and brands, this just adds to the confusion.

Crown Paints – Hempel Group

Owned by Danish business Hempel Group who have total global sales around €13bn.

Product: Sadolin Varnish

Ingredient: Methyl ethyl ketone oxime (2-butanone oxime)

This chemical is used to stop the ‘skinning’ effect of paints and varnish. Causes irritation to respiratory system and skin. High concentrations can cause serious health effects in animals.

Highly flammable, may cause drowsiness, damage to organs. Toxic to aquatic life.

Ingredient: Hydrotreated heavy naphtha (petroleum)

Exposure can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea and vomiting. May also cause damage to the Central Nervous System.

Volatile Organic Compounds in Paint Products.

Over the years thousands of Industrial chemicals used in paint products and have been passed as safe. (no surprise there). However, we don’t have to look that far back in time, to see the mistakes that were made in the name of safety. Here are two examples;

Lead was put in the paint until they realised it caused;

Abdominal pain, vomiting, jaundice, slowed growth, reduced IQ, weight loss, constipation, Anemia, general fatigue, and irritability.

It was only banned in the UK in 1992.

Methylene Chloride has been banned from paint thinners just this year by the EPA in the USA. They found Methylene Chloride was causing human injuries and death.

Symptoms include; rapid loss of consciousness, dizziness and death due to central nervous system depression.

There have been no long-term studies by the industry or EPA, or non they are admitting to. The words ‘may’ or ‘not anticipated’ or ‘unlikely’ are used a lot in the safety sheets. This does not fill me with confidence at all. Given the fact that most of these industrial chemicals are made by the same companies that make or supply the pesticide business for instance.

Volatile Organic Compounds are definitely playing a role in the decline in our health. If it kills animals and aquatic life, then it will also harm human health. 

I didn’t mention a lot of other chemicals like NMP (N-methyl-2-pyrrolidone), which is  a solvent and can cause stomach upsets, nausea, vomiting, and headaches. Or Titanium Dioxide which has just been classified as a possible carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Titanium Dioxide is used as a colour pigment. 

My personal favourite or my Kryptonite is Ethyl Acetate. Used as a lacquer or solvent it causes terrible discomfort; headaches, nausea, vomiting, sleeplessness, unconsciousness, Central Nervous System Depression, and congestion of the liver and kidneys.

These effects are all mainstream results, meaning they will be scored on the low side, in favour of the maker. So, does inhaling paint fumes cause short term side effects? Yes. Could long term exposure, cause a lot of the modern-day diseases we see around us today? I’ll let you all make up your own minds on that one. 

What I will end on is that, the same companies seem to pop up every time, it’s like a rogues gallary, DOW, Ineos, Syngenta, BASF etc. These huge global organisations, make toxic industrial chemicals. A lot of the raw materials are supplied by the Oil industry too. Some of these companies that are making harmful chemicals are also in the food and pharmaceutical business.

It’s not that hard to join the dots is it? 

*Disclaimer – Please note, we are not Doctors or trained medical professionals. We are not giving medical advice. Check with your Doctor or health practitioner before trying anything.


The Guardian
AKZONOBEL – Safety Sheet
MSDS Search
EU Safety
Hempel Group
Methylene Chloride