Paints use a variety of solvents, chemicals and volatile organic compounds that industrial workers can be exposed to when they make paint or when they paint products. The paint can be inhaled, or absorbed into the body through the skin. Some paint fumes are safe as long as workers get enough oxygen. However, many can cause serious long-term health problems in large concentrations, especially when workers use them in confined spaces.
Paints with harmful chemicals can sometimes permeate the skin and increase the quantity of chemicals in the blood, though protective clothing can prevent this. Lightweight protective clothing should be chosen to prevent the heat and fatigue that workers can experience when heavy-duty clothing is worn. Paint and solvents containing dangerous chemicals will be labeled with information about the level of protection required. The clothing should be disposable, so that it can be disposed of after a single use, if necessary. It must be disposed of properly.
Food should not be eaten in an area where workers spray paint that contains hazardous chemicals. Both paint and fumes can get into food and liquids and enter the body through ingestion.
Many industrial paints are flammable and can pose a fire risk for the workers. Stored paint can release fumes that ignite and cause a fire or explosion. Painters should make sure that paints are stored in cool, dry, well-ventilated areas, and that paint containers are full enough to keep fumes from building up to a dangerous level.
Volatile organic compounds and solvents found in paints can cause health problems. Sprayed paint contains aerosols that can be inhaled. Some of the additives, such as isocyanides, require respirators that allow painters to breathe without irritation. However, even paints applied with rollers or brushes give off fumes that are dangerous to breathe, potentially causing lung problems and asthma. The fumes are actually the worst when the paint dries, as the chemicals evaporate and enter the air, creating an environment full of toxic gases that can exacerbate asthma and sinusitis .
Solvents absorbed into the blood through the lungs can cause headaches, dizziness and even blackouts. Water-based paints usually dry relatively quickly, while oil-based paints evaporate over the course of a day. Those exposed to large quantities of paint fumes, especially industrial workers, can suffer from cancers and damage to the central nervous system. Pregnant women should not be exposed to paint fumes, as some chemicals can cause birth defects. Prolonged inhalation of volatile compounds causes hallucinations, delusions, dizziness, impaired judgment, drowsiness, muscle weakness, disorientation, irritability and depression. Long-term and frequent inhalation of paints can damage organs, including the lungs, brain, liver, kidneys and heart.
More Severe Hazards
The industrial manufacture of certain paint solvents can cause severe health problems for workers. Workers should be informed about the unique potential health effects of the chemicals they work with. One chemical, toluene, is a sweet smelling and volatile liquid that produces fumes that cause problems for those with asthma when breathed at lower levels. Greater levels of inhalation lead to euphoria, confusion, delusions, hallucinations, vertigo, seizures, loss of muscle coordination and even coma. Exposure over time can cause blindness, deafness, decreased cognitive ability, loss of smell and a long-term loss of muscle coordination.
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