Conventional paints can make the air you breathe a chemical cocktail, even long after they have dried, as they continue to release petroleum based solvents, called Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) as they cure. It is estimated that each year in Australia more than 60,000 tonnes of VOCs are released into the atmosphere, with the paint industry contributing significantly to this amount. Typical oil-based paint average 350g/L VOCs, or between 35-50% of the paints volume and contain chemicals such as Aliphatic & aromatic hydrocarbons(toluene, xylene), ketones (acetone, methyl ethyl ketone), alcohol (butanol, ethanol), esters (n-propyl acetate, butyl acetate) free monomers, volatile plasticisers, fungicides such as aromatic mercury compounds.
Some major paint manufacturers in Australia still use tints that contain high levels of VOCS. Therefore, GreenPainters advises consumers and specifiers to check what the VOC level is of tinted paint they intend to use.
Even typical water-based acrylics still contain 3-7% solvent content and may include chemicals such as glycol ethylene and propylene, glycol ethers, alcohols, formaldehyde, amines (ammonium hydroxide, amino-2-methyl propanol), monomers, volatile plasticisers, ammonia and fungicides. The VOC content of paint and the CO2 emitted during manufacture are key contributors to environmental impact - primarily in the form of air pollution (petrochemical smog) and to a lesser degree 'greenhouse gases'. In addition VOCs may also trigger respiratory reactions. Low-VOC paints should be specified for exterior applications as well.