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By Thomas A. Westerkamp
Paints & Coatings Article Use Policy
While label information might be quite brief, material safety data sheets (MSDS) are much more comprehensive. They are invaluable standard forms that manufacturers use to comply with right-to-know laws. An MSDS describes in more detail the contents of manufacturers' products.
A typical MSDS contains 16 sections and might run to four or more pages. Section I identifies the product and company. Section II lists composition and ingredients. Section III describes hazards. Section IV covers first-aid methods. Section V, firefighting methods. Section VI, accidental-release measures. Section VII, handling and storage. Section VIII, exposure controls and personal protection. Section IX, physical and chemical properties. Section X, stability and reactivity. Section XI, toxicological information. Section XII, ecological information. Section XIII, disposal information. Section XIV, transportation. Section XV, regulatory information. Section XVI, other information, including certification of the correctness of information supplied.
Not all volatile organic compounds (VOC) are harmful. The kind of VOCs that trees release are not harmful, but the kind paints release can be harmful. They combine with airborne nitrogen dioxide to form smog, which causes or aggravates respiratory problems. These VOCs also deplete ozone. The greater the level of ozone depletion, the less protection the ozone provides from ultraviolet rays.
An MSDS's physical and chemical data lists a product's VOC content. The permissible limit for an environmentally friendly, flat, water-based paint product is less than 50 milligrams (mg) per liter, which is low enough to minimize the off-gassing of VOCs. Off-gassing occurs not only when paint is wet. It can continue to occur after the paint is dry to the touch.
Pigments are made up of solid components that aid in coverage, produce color, and remain after the paint dries. The higher the pigment content of a paint or coating, the better it covers, and usually the higher is the cost.
But pigments also might have toxic ingredients, so this higher coverage also carries a higher potential for toxicity. Toxic materials can cause cancer or reproductive harm. Some common pigments, such as titanium dioxide and silica, have maximum permissible limits that are shown in the MSDS, Section III on hazards identification.
One important note on PPE: Proper respirator use by workers is essential: when applying paints and coatings, especially those containing these pigments; when sanding, blasting, and using other paint-removal methods, such as scraping and chipping; and when hazardous particles might become airborne.
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