Dr. Adrienne Sprouse

Dr. Adrienne Sprouse

Painting your home or office can add new zest to old colors. But be very careful about your selection of paints. Although lead in paints was banned in the United States in 1977, other additives in paints to make them dry faster or last longer can create serious health problems.

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are chemicals that are added to many paints to make them dry faster. Some paint pigments (colors) also contain VOCs. These very same VOCs can cause a wide range of health problems including nausea, vomiting, dizziness, headaches, mental confusion, difficulty concentrating, and shortness of breath…to name only a few. Depending on the level of VOCs in the paint you choose, they can continue to be emitted for days, weeks, or even months after the paint is applied. And you can still have low levels of VOCs present that you may not be able to detect by smelling them.

The Federal Government limits the VOC content in flat paint to 250 grams per liter, and 380 grams per liter for all other types of paints. Some states have more stringent regulations. California limits VOCs in flat paint to 100 grams per liter, and 150 grams per liter in all other paints.

Other additives to paints may also pose health concerns. These include mold retardants, pigments, and stains.

Although there is no perfect definition for “low VOC paints”, general marketing of paints often label any paint with less than 150 grams per liter as low VOC.   However, for many sensitive people, this level of VOC continues to cause health problems.

My best experience has been with AFM Safecoat paints. This company has developed a wide variety of paints and stains with the health of the consumer in mind. They produce a Zero VOC paint in certain colors. Contact for more information.


You may be aware that I am the Head Researcher for the upcoming documentary film “Passion and Poison – The Vindication of Vincent Van Gogh.” Many of the issues stated in this blog on Paints are fully discussed in the film. Van Gogh suffered some of the same ailments described above. For more information on how chemicals affected Van Gogh, visit

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