Paints & Coatings Resource Center

Ask the Expert Question-and-Answer Archive

by Ron Joseph

July, 2002

Solvents, VOC, Health Issues With Paints & Varnishes

Q. This chemical was recently applied to a rental unit's wood floors when the tenants began to experience breathing problems and skin rashes. Could the VOC's in this chemical have caused this for a short time? Are you aware of any litigation or cases regarding the Watco product? Thank you.

A. Before I give my answer, I must tell you that I am neither an industrial hygienist nor an industrial toxicologist. Therefore, I will only be able to give you a general answer. Moreover, you have not told me anything about the "chemical" that you applied, nor am I familiar with Watco's products. Therefore, for purposes of my answer I will ASSUME that it was some kind of wood coating. If this is the case, then you might find the following comments of interest.

In general you should know that all paints are made of chemicals. Some of them, especially those that are based on solvents, emit solvents into the air as they dry. Waterborne paints, such as acrylic emulsions contain predominantly water, but even here, there are some solvents and other chemicals that are emitted into the air.

On the assumption that the product was a coating, it is possible that your tenants were in a room that was not adequately ventilated to expel the volatile chemicals. Alternatively, they might have some sensitivity to these chemicals that might have been responsible for causing the symptoms.

On the other hand, their symptoms might have been caused by something in the environment that had nothing to do with the coating whatsoever, but since they experienced the symptoms at the same time the coating was being applied, they might have automatically associated their symptoms with the coating.

If you want to get to the bottom of this here is what I suggest: Ask Watco or the vendor from whom you purchased the product for a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) of the coating. You might even be able to download it from Watco's website. Armed with the MSDS consult with an industrial toxicologist who will look at the ingredients listed on the MSDS and compare them with the symptoms experienced by the tenants. A good toxicologist should be able to determine if the ingredients in the product were likely to cause the breathing problems you described.

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