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Written By: Henry P. Shotwell, Ph.D., CIH and Robert E. Sheriff, MS, CIH, CSP, and President
July 2, 2020
Is Paint Thinner Dangerous To My Health?
Paint thinner, the stuff you buy by the quart in any hardware store, goes by many names and has as many ingredients. Many of us wonder, ‘is paint thinner dangerous to my health”?
In one form or another, paint thinner has wide commercial and industrial usage. We also know it by many names such as Stoddard Solvent, VM&P Naphtha, White Spirit, Naphtha, Petroleum Naphtha, Petroleum Distillates, Petroleum Hydrocarbons among others. It is widely used in consumer products and also used this variety of “solvents” are widely used in the industry.
Paint Thinner (VOCs)
No matter what you call it, paint thinner is a mixture of volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) formulated to have low flammability/combustibility, and no two manufacturers make their product the same way. Paint thinner is for diluted and oil-based paints. Water-based paints can be thinned or cleaned up with water. Suffice it to say most, if not all, are petroleum products. Paint thinners are usually combustible, rather than flammable. While paint thinner doesn’t evaporate quite as quickly as gasoline, for example, it can still build-up a concentration if used in a small room with little or no ventilation to remove built-up vapors. Please note that it leaves the possibility of spontaneous combustion such as in a pile of soiled rags!! Fire Protection must be readily available when using paint thinners – Stoddard Solvent or whatever its name.
The OSHA 8-hour time-weighted exposure limit for paint thinner (as Stoddard Solvent) is 500 parts per million (ppm). This is half the OSHA limit for exposure to acetone (nail polish remover), so paint thinners are not terribly hazardous. But, it has to be remembered that paint thinner vapors can irritate the eyes, nose, and throat, in spite of their fairly pleasant odor, and can make one dizzy and/or nauseous if the vapors are inhaled in high enough levels over a long enough time period such as in a closed-off room or factory space.
Even though the OSHA Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) is 500 ppm because if the varied content of paint thinners, it is generally recommended to keep the exposure below 100 ppm as a reasonable margin of safety even though it is not required by OSHA, ACGIH and NIOSH both recommended 100 ppm for Stoddard Solvent. Paint thinners can also contain other chemicals: mineral spirits, aliphatic hydrocarbons, toluene, and acetone.
Paint Thinner Use
Paint thinners at high levels can also be a fire/explosive hazard. I recall one tragic instance where two workers were cleaning the floor of the plant on a Saturday morning of sticky resin by pouring paint thinner on the floor. They took a thirty-minute break to let the paint thinner soak in and loosen up the resin. When they returned to work, they used a metal scraper. It caused a spark resulting in a vapor explosion. By the time the sprinklers activated, it was too late. Neither man survived.
The bottom line is that paint thinners can be used safely if used according to the instructions on the label, or the information in the Safety Data Sheet (SDS). Most SDS’s recommend ventilation and respiratory protection.
If respirators are used, it is important to have the workers sampled to determine if the correct respirator is used. This also means that the provisions of the respiratory protection standard (20 CFR 1910.134) are implemented including training and respirable fit testing of workers.
A more potent paint thinner is often referred to as “Lacquer Thinner” which can be more hazardous than “Paint Thinner.” It is more potent than paint thinners and is intended to dissolve the plastics and resin components of lacquer.
It contains a variety of chemicals more toxic than paint thinners (the common Stoddard Solvent). Some of those chemicals include:
Isopropyl alcohol (isopropanol)
Methyl alcohol (methanol)
Methyl Ethyl Ketone (MEK)
Lacquer thinners use demands much more care to protect the painter from exposure to these agents. Ventilation, personal protection, and respiratory protection are strongly advised and required by OSHA if done by an employee as a work task.
Also, monitoring of the worker’s exposure is necessary to ensure an overexposure does not exist OR the individual has the proper protection and work environment to be handled safely.
Other Hazardous Solvent Type Chemicals
There may be many other solvent type chemicals that are hazardous. The important thing is to obtain an SDS for the specific product of concern since all these “Paint Thinners” or “Lacquer Thinners” may have a variety of characteristics—some more hazardous than others. Even a consumer can get an SDS from the location of purchase. Get the SDS, its important! Search the other articles or the other pages of our website for details, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 1-800-344-4414.
For more information regarding, “Is Paint Thinner Dangerous To My Health?’ and to learn more about how we can help you, contact Atlantic Environmental.
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