As we move into the months where mould climbs anew up the walls in Asian cities, speckled smudges blossoming over night across walls and ceilings. Unhealthy spores fill the air but are equally noxious chemicals the only alternative?
In this new section we look at home and lifestyle choices that go beyond the decisions that you make at work through to the decisions that affect you, your friends and family.
We start by looking at interior paint. The wall covering of choice for most across the region can be not only environmentally detrimental but extremely unhealthy. Paint companies tell us how bad it can be, what to watch out for and available alternatives.
That ‘freshly painted’ smell is not a good thing. Indoor air quality (IAQ) is often several times more hazardous to health than polluted outdoor air. Studies done by A00, a green architectural practice based in Shanghai, found IAQ in a newly completed flat in Shanghai was so bad that they were required to recalibrate their machines just to get an accurate reading. When they did they found that the levels of pollutants were six or more times than recommended by the World Health Organisation. That is, if the WHO had recommended, for example, a maximum level of 100, the levels present in the air were 600. IAQ improved twice a day when the windows were opened to air the house.
Think about it?
Maggie Chan from Nippon paint explains that traditional interior paint containing heavy metals such as lead are extremely harmful to humans, the dust is harmful if inhaled and particularly noxious to babies who might eat chips of paint. However she says “In this decade formaldehyde is a main concern.” Formaldehyde is a VOC (volatile organic compound) that attacks the human respiratory system. Most common associated problems are nose and throat irritation while studies have also linked exposure to high levels of formaldehyde as increasing the risk of certain types of cancer. Suffice to say that it is not good for you, and anything that is not good for humans generally is particularly dangerous around children and pregnant women. VOCs are emitted by paint (in a phenomenon known as off-gassing) and many other finishes and furniture making new homes more toxic than older buildings in many cases. Semannia Luk from Ecotec Natural Paint Ltd explains that Indoor Air Pollutants affecting our health include: VOCs, particles and humidity.
• There is widespread regulation of VOC emissions, each region having its own VOC limits standard, explains Luk. Indoor flat wall paints in Hong Kong have a limit of 50 g/litre. In Europe it’s 30 g/l, USA 250 g/l.
• Multi-nationals, anticipating future law-suits specify low-VOC paints in their corporate fit-outs. u VOCs emit slowly and often it can take years before health effects fully materialise.
• Even paints within the legal VOC limits can produce negative long term health effects.
• Low VOC and formaldehyde free paint highly reduces the harmful effect. Luk says “we should look for truly non-VOC products, this means toavoid any contents of petro-chemicals.”
• Most dangerous are particulate matter from older lead based paint.
• Regulation of particles emission (as mono mer) is gradually under way in Europe, the limit is still under discussion.
• According to Luk, less humidity means less moisture in the air and thus less dust attaches to the moisture. In this environment people suffer less from breathing problems.
We can avoid these toxins by not buying high VOC in the first place and then by maintaining a well ventilated, low-humidity home.
Is it worth it?
The down side of natural paint is that it is expensive and in some cases does not have some of the properties of petrochemical based formulations. Though proponents say that it is worth it. People tend not to care about measuring payback so much when their own health is on the line. When we make decisions for our homes health zooms to the top of the list. There are super healthy options that can be bought online such as products made of naturally occurring substances that mimic traditional natural paint fabrication techniques, such as the Real Milk Paint company. After studying the risks people will generally opt for the best they can afford based on their risk tolerance.
Unfortunately, says Luk the harmful emissions from the old paint cannot be sealed by painting over. It is highly recommend to remove the existing old paint and replace with better quality natural paint. According to Chan good quality green paint should have all VOC emitted in two hours, and two days for economical green coatings. “If some of the furniture is painted in China, it is highly recommended to keep sufficient ventilation” she says. Low/no VOC paint means you can move in right away. However ventilation is always a good idea for good indoor air quality whether painting or not.
And finally, what about the mould?
In the past low/no VOC paint suffered from performance issues. According to Chan advanced technology allows a balance between performance and green concerns. “With a nearly zero VOC content (no VOC in formulation, indeed all the ‘zero VOC’ paint in HK are close to but not actually zero), some suppliers also give a silky smooth finish with excellent washability of over 28000 times!” Some properties in the green paint are in fact superior to ordinary emulsion: the green coating system can cover hairline cracks and provide vertical water proofing. All Nippon green coatings are anti-fungus and tolerant to highly humid areas, says Chan. Mould Resistant “Ecozmo Paints don’t have the anti-mould or toxins that can kill the mould. As we believe, any chemicals / toxins that can kill germs could also affect us.” Luk says. “Our paints prevent mould the natural way. Moulds need moisture to grow so they are usually found on humid surfaces. The breathability of our paints together with good ventilation help to keep the walls dry thus eliminating the key element required for mould growth.”