Like many people, you may think paint is paint. Unfortunately, that is not true. While most newer paints used today are very safe to use, are environmentally-friendly, and pose few if any dangers to your health, the same cannot be said for old paint. In fact, whether the old paint is already on a surface or still in a can and maybe even dried up, it can present numerous safety hazards like the ones described here.
When old paint has dried, you probably think any potential safety hazards are gone. However, paint fumes can pose quite a risk to your health. As paint dries and evaporates, it releases a wide variety of harmful substances into the surrounding air. These substances are known as VOC, which stands for Volatile Organic Compounds. When released into the air, paint fumes can have you breathing in ethanol, benzene, formaldehyde, and other assorted harmful chemicals.
Prior to 1978, most paints used in homes and businesses contained lead. Even if the old paint is hidden beneath layers of newer paint that is lead-free, this does not mean the old lead paint poses no risk. As paint peels or chips away, toxic fumes can be released, or children or pets can actually inhale the old paint chips. In either case, lead poisoning becomes a real possibility, and can be life-threatening. If you have a business in a building constructed prior to 1978, you may want to speak to your landlord about a commercial abatement while the old lead-based paint is being removed from the premises.
While lead is what usually gets most of the headlines concerning old paint, mercury poisoning is also a safety hazard of old paint. In fact, almost any type of water-based or oil-based paint manufactured before 1990 contains unacceptable levels of mercury. Should you have old paint cans at your home that are not properly sealed or been discarded, mercury poisoning will always be a concern.
Finally, many older paints are now known to contain various types of heavy metals that are considered to be carcinogens, meaning they put you at greater risk of developing cancer if you inhaled their fumes regularly over the years. In most cases, the carcinogens were present in paints that were very vibrant colors, since this helped bring out their pigment. In most of these paints, the carcinogens present include arsenic, chromium, and cadmium.
To play it safe, properly dispose of any old paint at your home or business. By doing so, you keep yourself and others much safer.