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Ask the Expert Question-and-Answer Archive

by Ron Joseph

December, 2005

Possible Brain Damage From Inhaling Paint Solvents

Q. My uncle used to paint boats. Right now, he just sleeps at home, and I believe he has brain damage. Are there any info's or websites that can help?

A. If you believe that your uncle was brain damaged due to the paints and solvents he inhaled, you should speak to a personal injury lawyer. This is not a simple case as it might be difficult to prove that the paints/solvents affected his brain; however, lawsuits of a similar nature have been successfully argued in court.

There are many parameters that must be taken into account:
What paints did he use?
How did he apply the paints?
Did he wear a respirator when he painted?
Did his employer provide him with protective clothing?
Did his employer provide safety training?
Was he working for more thn one employer during his painting career?
And much more ...

Q. Thank you for your response. My uncle did not use precaution. I believe he didn't use mask, or any safety when painting boats. His brother is doing the same thing, not being precautious of himself.

Both of them have private businesses and they themselves are the owners. I recall that they didn't wear any protective clothing, mask, or a respirator. I believe they were never trained, probably from a friend, but not from a professional.

Are there brochures or articles that can help me out with my uncle's situation? I have two uncles who paint boats, one is bedridden, and the other one is still working on boats without proper safety.

Please help. Thank you very much for your time.

A. If you look at the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for each of the paints that your uncle used, it will list the health effects of each of the chemicals in the paint. Do you know whose paints they used? Do you live in the US or outside the US? You can often download from the Internet the MSDS of paints that are sold in the US.

If you know what solvents were used in the paints you can go online and read the health effects of each, BUT don't be mislead into assuming that your uncle is suffering from any or all of the health problems that are described in the MSDS or on the Internet. The extent to which your uncle may have been effected will depend on many factors, especially how much of each paint solvent he inhaled. If he smoked, then that might also have contributed or exacerbated his problem.

I STRONGLY urge you to tell your uncle's brother that it is VERY dangerous to paint without taking proper precautions. Often the health problems only manifest themselves after many years. By that time it is often too late to do anything to remedy the problem. Most employers insist that their painters wear appropriate clothing and respirators, and I have heard of companies that fire employees who do not take the required precautions!

Best wishes,

Ron Joseph

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