Are Paint Fumes Bad for a Child's Health?

Applying paint to walls or furniture might seem like a simple do-it-yourself project, but if you have a youngster in the house, proceed carefully. Both oil-based and water-based paints emit dangerous chemicals into the air, called volatile organic compounds. By learning how paint fumes can affect children’s health, you can keep your youngster safe from environmental dangers of paint.

VOC Dangers

Volatile organic chemicals are present in many products, including paints and glues. Possible short-term health issues from VOC exposure include headaches, nausea, dizziness, tiredness and eye irritation, according to the Thurston County Washington Public Health and Social Services website 1. Long-term health issues from VOC exposure include damage to the central nervous system, liver and kidneys.

Water-Based Verses Oil-Based

Oil-based paints contain high concentrations of VOCs due to the typical exterior application of these paints. With environmental exposure to moisture, wind and sun, the VOCS enable the paint to dry hard and withstand harsh weather conditions, according to the Yosemite Environmental Protection Agency 2. Water-based paints release fewer chemicals into the air, but they do release dangerous chemicals, including ethylene glycol ethers, mercury and formaldehyde.

Child Sensitivities

Paint fumes aren't good for anyone, but there are increased risks for children, mainly due to the fact that kids are smaller and that their bodies are still growing and developing, according to the Healthy Schools Network. A child proportionately breathes more per pound than adults breathe. Children also lack the ability to protect themselves the same way adults can, which means that they may experience exposure to paint fumes without understanding what’s happening or trying to get away from the fumes.

Painting Safely

When planning a painting project, choose a VOC-free or low-VOC paint. Even with these paints, always read the label, and if the paint contains propylene glycol and glycol ethers, mercury or formaldehyde, don't use it. Children exposed to these chemicals and solvents could develop stuffy noses, asthma and eczema. Choose a paint product specifically manufactured to not contain potentially harmful solvents and chemicals. Remove children from the area during painting. Open windows while painting, and ventilate the room with a fan in a window to pull exterior air into the room. After you finish painting, keep children away for at least 72 hours while the paint dries and the fumes dissipate. Continue ventilating the painted area during the drying time to reduce odors.

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