Weighing Your Options

woman making decision

Sometimes the paint with the lowest level of VOCs is not the healthiest choice. Instead, a product with a slightly higher VOC content is a better choice because it requires fewer coats, and therefore contributes fewer VOCs overall than a lower VOC paint would.

To guard against this kind of surprising result, the Healthy Building Network offers an online volatile ingredients calculator called “CompAIR” to find the best paint option among those being considered.

CompAIR is a useful tool to learn about the impacts of any wet-applied product because it includes substances that are volatile and hazardous but are exempt from VOC reporting.

Chemicals found in paint can cause serious damage via inhalation, absorption, or ingestion. The length of exposure, type of paint, healthiness of the individual, and other factors impact the possible health ramifications.

Type of Toxin


Where It’s Found

Health Concerns

Heavy Metals

Lead, cadmium, zinc, chromium (VI), titanium dioxide

Paint pigments (mostly art paints)

Cancer, developmental problems and birth defects, reproductive disruptor, decreased fertility, kidney damage, bone loss

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

Toluene, xylene, ethyl acetate, formaldehyde, methylene chloride, propyl glycol, glycol ethers

Solvents and paint strippers

Cancer and liver toxicity, confusion, death, respiratory irritation, gene mutation


Iodopropynyl, terbutryn, diuron, isoproturon, octylisothiazolinone

Latex paints

Persistent bioaccumulative toxic, biocide resistance


Asbestos, crystalline silica, talc

Latex paint, construction/demolition

Lung cancer, mesothelioma, asbestosis, silicosis

Alkylphenol Ethoxylates (APEOs)

Nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPE)


Endocrine disruptor, persistent bioaccumulative toxicant