National Toxicology Program
Most petroleum solvents are distilled from tar and oil
left to right: Tar spreading in road construction; the industry is
currently switching to non-tar alternatives to help protect the health
of their workers. / A typical tar/asphaltum based hard ground solution /
a tar ball found on a beach / An illustration of typical polycyclic
aromatic hydrocarbons - benz(e)acephenanthrylene, pyrene
anddibenz(ah)anthracene. (Wikipedia) / (right) Lithotene and Litho Tusche
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs),
also known as poly-aromatic hydrocarbons or polynuclear aromatic
hydrocarbons, are potent atmospheric pollutants that consist of fused
aromatic rings and do not contain heteroatoms or carry substituents. Naphthalene (White Spirit | Mineral Spirit)
is the simplest example of a PAH. PAHs occur in oil, coal, and tar
deposits, and are produced as byproducts of fuel burning (whether fossil
fuel or biomass). As a pollutant, they are of concern because some
compounds have been identified as carcinogenic, mutagenic, and teratogenic (WIKIPEDIA).
companies supplying ingredients for bio-solvents and volume supplies for
industrial use (for instance in the printing industry) are Citrus Depot
and Vertec Biosolvents. Both of these firms conduct leading research
and development into nontoxic solvent technologies.
claim to be 'the world's most innovative supplier of sustainable
biobased solvents derived from corn, soybeans, citrus fruits and other
renewable feedstocks', and the company also pursue a carbon-neutral
policy. The company just announced a new product - its 'DLR blend', a
low cost and environmentally friendly replacement for d-limonene, which
is set to have many uses and applications in painting and printing.
Example: 'D-Solve': 'This truly revolutionary solvent was formulated as an alternative to petroleum-based turpentines and thinners. Made from 100% renewable resources of soy, corn, and citrus, and is non-polluting, non-carcinogenic, and bio-degradable. A teaspoon will thoroughly clean a printing plate. DSolve will even strip dried ink or paint.' Dick Blick
Citrus-based solvents made for the DIY mass-market (available in hardware and DIY stores) include 'De-Solv-it' or 'CitraSolv'.
Image: Z*Acryl Product D*Solve ( a pioneering product, now unavailable)
2 June 2008
Appeared in BioNews 460
New research shows that the sperm of men who work as painters and decorators is likely to be of poorer quality. This is due to their exposure to chemical solvents known as glycol ethers in water-based paints and other substances used in their trade.
|Protection against low level VOC exposure|
Today there are many paint products that are marketed as safe, yet there may still be harmful low-level VOC emissions, such as glycol ether. Examples: many water-based paints, acrylic floor finish, some artist acrylics, low odor, low VOC solvents, and printmaking resists.
Although a full organic respirator may be impractical for a days work we would recommend wearing a disposable light weight mask that offers some organic vapor protection. Dispose of the mask after a days work (about $ 5 per mask).
3M Particulate Respirator 8514, N95, with Nuisance Level Organic Vapor Relief
A label may also include "risk" phrases and "safety" phrases.
The US labelling system came about through the combined efforts of a number of associations and groups. The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) has prepared standards for the safe use of art materials. The Art & Creative Materials Institute (ACMI) provides labeling certification and works to promote the safe and informed use of art materials in North America. It should be noted that the EU and US systems of labeling use different levels and limits.
also be considered that although ACMI has done a lot to promote better
practices and improved health labeling, there may also be limitations
regarding their scope, and sometimes their objectivity. The institute is
funded by the materials manufacturers themselves rather than by a
completely independent body. It would be in the nature of this
affiliation that there are instances in which a completely objective
point of view about health hazards may not always be possible. In our
experience there have been instances in which products (for instance
certain tar formulations for printmaking) were given a nontoxic logo by
their makers, when in fact the label should bear a warning about cancer
and neurological hazards. It may seem that ACMI is not always able to
police its policies, and sometimes manufacturers print 'nontoxic' labels
on products that are known to cause toxic effects. It is best to
consult MSDS sheets in conjunction with product labels as these contain a
lot more detailed information. Even msds sheets can be misleading - or
may omit certain health information - so anyone that uses art and
printmaking materials, paints and solvents is well advised to consult
literature on art safety, or an independent resource such as this, to
get a fully rounded picture of potential hazards. If you know the
ingredients you wish to know more about, you can do a quick Google
search such as 'Toxicity of Asphalt'.
WARNING: ODORLESS THINNERS - DON'T JUST READ THE LABEL
The petroleum industry has been marketing odorless thinners and solvents as a safe alternative to conventional mineral spirits. As a consequence, many artists, print studios and commercial printers may be using certain products in the belief that the absence of a strong odor is a guarantee of safety. This reasonable assumption is often 'confirmed' by the manufacturer's use of 'safe' terminology and imagery on the can. Many of these products can be just as harmful as the strong-smelling VOCs, and may contain powerful neurotoxins - something which may not be explicit in the labeling.
BEST PRACTICE: CHECK THE MSDS
If you want to be sure that a product is truly safe, inspect its MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) - the recommendations may surprise you! For example, contrary to its label, one common odorless thinner's MSDS states that a NIOSH approved organic respirator and local fume extraction is advised for the user's protection.
art materials suppliers, such as Dick Blick, provide Material Safety
Data Sheets in PDF format next to their products on the company website
so that you don't have to do the Googling for hidden hazards.
IS ACETONE A SAFE SOLVENT?
Acetone is sometimes quoted as a safe solvent because it is used extensively in chemistry labs and goes into conventional nail varnish and remover. Some artists and printers use it as a replacement for other solvents such white spirit. Medical studies have indeed found acetone to be significantly less neurotoxic than most petro-chemical solvents, but certainly it is an agent that requires good caution in its use. Some scientists argue that acetone is readily broken down and metabolized by the human body, justifying its widespread use.
By contrast, The Tamarind Techniques Manual by Marjorie Devon quotes acetone as a known carcinogen (this may be incorrect), and as an agent capable of causing birth defects.
has the same ability to cause short term damage in higher concentrations
as more toxic solvents (it may cause unconsciousness and severe lung
damage!) and perhaps its greatest hazard is presented by its great
dissolving ability. Acetone is known to enhance and amplify the toxic
effects of toxic agents that may be dissolved by it, for instance nail
varnish ingredients such as toluene or toxic pigments that may cause
birth defects. Used in a traditional print studio acetone may exacerbate the carcinogenic effects of tar products.
WHICH ALCOHOL IS SAFE?
Methanol, Isopropanol, and Ethyl Alcohol: Which is Safe? These three forms of alcohol are very common solvents and de-greasing agents. We would advise against the use of Methyl Alcohol (also used as fuel) as it is highly toxic and is known to cause blindness. It is also added to Ethyl Alcohol (Drinking Alcohol) as a denaturing agent to safeguard against abuse as drink. Both Isopropyl alcohol and Ethyl Alcohol are sold as medical âRubbing Alcoholâ, but only Ethyl Alcohol is recommended as a relatively safe solvent, cleaning and and de-greasing agent. It is the only alcohol that our bodies can readily metabolize, hence its popularity in alcoholic beveragesâ¦Cheers!
Friedhard Kiekeben, with special thanks to Chloe Randall for her invaluable assistance with research into VOCs; special thanks also to Michael McCann for editorial suggestions
Safer Paint Strippers
Exposure to some common paint stripping products
can be very hazardous, and even fatal.
OSHA lists several safer alternatives
on the following page:
Fatal Incident involving Paint Stripper | OSHA
Hazards of Acrylic Paint Products