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Paint and let live

by Mike Eatough(more info)

listed in environmental, originally published in issue 26 - March 1998

We are still being poisoned by lead paint. Children’s intellectual development is being impaired by lead poisoning from paint. The increase in the incidence of tuberculosis has in part been attributed to lead.

The risks from lead are a legacy from the past. However, we are currently using paint that creates other threats, both immediately, and in subsequent build-up. We can minimise the lead danger; and we now have the option to choose paint that is not a hazard in use, nor a source of trouble later.

The use of lead in paint was regulated in 1922. From the fifties lead carbonate was replaced by other white pigments in decorating materials. Since 1988, E.C. regulations have barred its use except by professional decorators on listed buildings. Even so paint is a significant source of lead poisoning. Old paint, when it becomes unstable or is removed for redecoration, will produce dust and flakes, which unchecked, will be a source of lead, and the poisoning effects that follow.

Research, by Dr Erik Millstone of Sussex University, suggests 10% of the population is suffering from lead poisoning. In 1997 Dr Millstone’s findings were published under the title, “Lead and Public Health.” Lead is a cumulative poison. The body has no means of excreting the metal, nor is it required for any metabolic process. Children up to five are at greatest risk of contamination and its toxic effects. This can permanently impair mental function.

Dr Millstone presents evidence to show that lead released from dense tissue in the pregnant mother, will bridge the placenta and create toxicity in the foetus.

Contamination comes from lead water-pipes, lead loaded petrol, smelter air-pollution. These are areas where there is a social-political responsibility, but with the exception of petrol, the opportunity to influence the situation on a direct personal level is low.

With the remaining source of lead poisoning, old paint, the individual is responsible.

The British Coatings Federation publish booklets outlining safe procedures. Any paint work from before 1960 should be tested for lead. Testing kits can be bought from some Trade counters, and Merchants. B&Q sell testing kits. They can also be obtained from J.H. Ratcliffe & Co. of Southport.

Lead based paint becomes dangerous when it starts to deteriorate. Paint flakes and dust can then be taken in through the mouth or lungs.

Dry sanding is dangerous. Protective gloves, overalls, and mask, when dealing with lead paint are essential.

Safe removal is based on keeping debris as coarse as possible, and contained. Carpets and material that would harbour dust are cleared from the work area. Surfaces are covered with heavy gauge plastic sheet.

Wet sanding, or chemical stripping, are the least hazardous ways of removing the paint. Great care must be taken in disposing of the debris. It should not be burnt, or composted. The recommendation is to put in sealed bags, and then in the domestic dustbin.

The British Coating Federation leaflets suggest that hot air strippers can be used, providing the temperature is thermostatically controlled to below 450C. Heat stripping by other equipment is banned.

A flame gun is totally unsuitable. In no circumstances should paint be burnt. Fumes created by heat release lead in a form that is readily absorbed. There is no means of containing it.

Vacuum cleaning is essential after the work is finished. The ordinary domestic vacuum cleaner is not suitable, as the filters will allow paint dust to pass through. The suitable standard of filter is classed as High Efficiency Particle Arrester (H.E.P.A.). Dyson Absolute, and De Stijl, which are domestic models, are filtered to a level within the H.E.P.A. classification. Suitable vacuum cleaners can be hired from Numatic International Ltd. Chard.

The reality of lead poisoning is seen in its horror in the plight of Shohel Ahmed. His father is taking legal action against Tower Hamlets Council who were landlords of his council flat. It is alleged lead levels held Shohel’s mental age at four, while his actual age is eleven, were the result of lead paint.

Paint in the tin is a pigment, in a binder, held in suspension by a solvent. When the paint has been applied, the pigment is held to the painted surface by the binder. The solvent evaporates. It becomes part of the atmosphere of the room. It moves out and becomes part of the general atmosphere.

Work done by Neil Passant for the Dept of the Environment shows emission from paint sources form 35% of U.K. solvent emissions from stationary sources. Looking at emissions in total; which includes exhaust fumes from traffic, stationary combustion, the oil industry, food industry, agriculture, waste disposal; paint accounts for 8% These are the figures behind smog, greenhouse effect, global warming.

The situation here, regarding paint is different from lead risk. Lead levels are not going to rise from new paint use, correct procedure dealing with paint can contain the danger, arising from a situation that already exists. With solvents, the responsibility lies with the user.

There is choice. Decorating materials can be selected with a regard to whether they contain a solvent with a high or low volatility, the nature of the solvent, the proportion of solvent to binder and pigment.

For some time it has been possible to buy paint made with low impact solvents, from specialist manufacturers such as Livos, Auro, Green Paint, and Nutshell. Now B&Q are actively promoting the sale of low emission decorating materials. They are labelling products according to their Volatile Organic Compound content. Five grades are being used as a base for informing customers and creating awareness of risk.

Highly volatile solvents are derived from oil, through oil-cracking process forming aliphatic hydrocarbons, or turpentine substitutes. The manufacture itself produces atmospheric emissions. These materials, along with the solvents, are not part of a natural re-integration cycle. In fact, their chemical stability appears almost to exclude their re-integration. The outcome seems to be smog, and more damage to the ozone layer. Another aspect is further depletion of the non-renewable resource of oil.

Paint can be chosen that has a naturally derived solvent; turpentine, distilled from trees of the Sumach family, oil from citrus peel, vegetable balms. Simplest, easiest, safest, there is water.

These are materials that are part of a naturally occurring re-integration cycle. They volatilise slowly, this with their natural provenance means the chance of headache and nausea has almost gone. For many, this would be reason enough to use a paint with a natural solvent. It comes as a surprise to realise that feeling a little queasy is not necessarily a part of decorating, and that the room can be back in use as soon as it is dry. It is a boon too where food preparation, storage, or dining are involved, not only in a domestic situation but also commercially.

The advantage in the use of such materials where there is risk to someone who suffers from asthma, is obvious. There can, however, be a complication with allergic response, which can be a component of asthma, or may manifest as skin disturbance, headaches, tiredness, influenza-like feelings, malaise, and a catalogue of symptoms.

If allergic response to paint is suspected, and this can occur with synthetic as well as natural solvents, the first stage is to confirm that an allergen is causing the trouble, and if so, what this is.

The Natural Therapy Centre at Llangwyryfon, near Aberystwyth, can supply a practitioner list of Members of the Institute of Allergy Therapists. They have been trained to detect allergic response through a branch of Kinesiology, in which change in muscle tone is assessed. The practitioner will be able to establish what is causing the trouble. Two courses are then open.

The centre at Aberystwyth can prepare a Homoeopathic remedy which will allow the body to adjust its response. The symptoms should clear.

Alternatively, having found the cause of the trouble it is then possible to have paint mixed without using the allergen. Some paint manufacturers will make small batches specifically for individual needs, substituting components as required.

Paint Naturally from Gloucestershire, who distribute a broad range of decorating materials, can make these arrangements. They may also be able to recommend products that are free from the specific allergen.

The nature of solvents has a bearing on health and painting, so also has the amount of solvent. Solvent keeps the pigment and binder in suspension, allowing the paint to spread. With high solvent levels it can be spread thin, but over a large area. There will be little pigment, little colouring. A high pigment and binder proportion to solvent will be less health threatening, and have a fuller obliterating effect. The measure of this is the specific gravity of the paint. This is shown in its specification.

With the growth of the oil derivatives industry oil based petro vinyl polymers have formed the bulk of paint binders. There are the obvious risks. Emissions worsening pollution and material is created with no natural re-integration route.

There are changes. Casein, a protein in milk, is being used again. Binders made from soya bean are available, maize is used, gluten, the protein in wheat is used.

At the moment, as with solvents, it is the small specialist manufacturers who are using these health safe, eco safe, materials. This will not be so for long.

Phil Taylor of I.C.I. paint division has been talking to the National Farmers Union about growing potatoes for paint binder. His research work has taken his intended use of starch to the point where he forecasts that in five years, starch from potatoes will have replaced oil derived vinyl polymers in I.C.I. paint. He hopes that it will be even sooner. He adds almost apologetically, “I haven’t quite cracked the under water marine paints problems yet.” The advantages that are the driving force for Phil Taylor’s work are available now. By exercising choice; paint can be used that is degradable by bacterial composting; that is produced without creating further pollution; that does not emit highly toxic fumes; that is made from resources that are renewable; that does not make our heads ache; and will not poison our grandchildren. Use these paints.

Sources/ References

•    Dr Erik Millstone, Sussex University.
•    Lead and Public Health, Earthscan Publications Ltd., 120 Pentonville Road, London. Author Dr. Erik Millstone, Tel: 0171 2780433
•    British Coatings Federation, James House, Bridge House, Leatherhead. Surrey. KT22 7EP Tel: 01372 360660
•    Lead Test kits: J.H. Ratcliffe & Co.( Paints ) Ltd., 135, Linaker Street, Southport, Lancs PR8 5DF Tel: 01704 537999
•    B&Q Plc. Portswood House, Chandlers Ford, Eastleigh, Hants. SO53 3YX
•    Dyson Customer Care Tetbury, Malmesbury, Wilts SN16 0RP 01666 827272
•    Numatic International Ltd., Millfield Road Chard, Somerset TA2 2BB
•    Emissions of Volatile Organic Compounds from Stationary Sources in the United Kingdom N.R. Passant, ref. PECD 7/12/139, Publications, Warren Spring Laboratory, Stevenage, Hertfordshire SG1 2BX
•    Livos, D-3111 Warren, Germany
•    Auro Pflanzenchemie GmbH, Postbox 1238, D 3300 Braunschweig, Germany
•    Green Paint, Hague Farm, Hague Lane, Renishaw, Sheffield F31 9UR
•    The Natural Therapy Centre, Fynnonwen, Llangwyryfon, Aberystwyth SY23 4EY
•    Paint Naturally, Witcombe, Gloucestershire GL3 4UQ
•    Dr Phil Taylor, I.C.I. Paints, Wexham Road, Slough, Berkshire SL2 5DS

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About Mike Eatough

Mike Eatough is an acupuncturist. He trained under Professor Worsley at The College of Traditional Acupuncture, Leamington Spa. He graduated in 1978 with a Licentiate of Acupuncture and in 1982 with a Bachelor of Acupuncture. He is a member of the British Acupuncture Council. He has been in practice in Cheltenham for 25 years. As a Buddhist, he has a particular interest in the Zen traditions. He can be contacted on Tel/Fax: 01242 581751; E: mike.eatough@virgin.net

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