Paints & Coatings Resource Center

Ask the Expert Question-and-Answer Archive

by Ron Joseph

July, 2001

Health Problems Caused by Prolonged Use of Paints

Q. I spent months crammed under vehicles using spray cans hours on end preparing them for cold storage. We had inadequate or no masks. Could the ingredients in those spray cans cause me lasting damage?

A. In short, the answer is yes, it is possible that the extensive use of aerosol spray paint cans in a confined area can cause lasting health damage.

If a person experiences health problems that are believed to be attributed to long-term spray painting, I would advise the person to consult with a certified industrial toxicologist who will need to compare the person's symptoms with the ingredients in the paints that were used. It is often not simply adequate to say that because one is experiencing health problems one can attribute this to the use of the paints. A trained toxicologist will look at the health symptoms of the person and then look at the ingredients in the paint. Specific ingredients, such as xylene, are known to cause very specific health problems. If those symptoms are not experienced by the person then it is difficult to prove a case. The same goes for all of the other potentially toxic ingredients. The MSDS of a coating or solvent product lists all the hazardous ingredients within the product formulation and describes the potential problems and symptoms caused by each.

Also, the extent of the symptoms are influenced by the degree of exposure that the person had to the chemicals. For instance, a painter who had only brief exposure to the chemicals might have a difficult time convincing anyone that his/her symptoms were caused by the paint. On the other hand, a painter who worked day in and day out with paints has an easier job of making such a case.

Then there is the issue of spray respirators (masks). Was the person given a respirator but didn't wear it? Was the respirator appropriate for the solvent or paint fumes, etc.? There are a whole host of questions that need to be investigated in this sphere.

You can see that this is not a straight forward problem and needs a fair amount of investigation, data collection and analysis.

I hope this answers your question.

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