Mom: I started painting the den.
Me: Cool. Did you use low VOC paint?
Mom: Um, sure . . . . What it low VOC paint? [Translates as, “probably not.”]
Sometimes, I take my environmental knowledge for granted. VOC stands for volatile organic compound. These chemicals occur in paint, among other things. If you are painting, especially indoors, you will inhale VOCs. Breathing VOCs is bad. Immediate health risks include breathing problems, headache, and eye irritation. Over time, some VOCs are also linked to cancer risk.
The levels of VOCs are highest immediately after painting, but your newly painted walls continue to off-gas VOCs long after the paint is dry. The good news is that low- or no-VOC paint is readily available. Look or ask for it for your next indoor painting project.