In recent years, we have learned more about the potential dangers of solvents, substances in which other materials dissolve to form a solution. For this reason, DaSilva’s and many other shops in the industry have reduced, if not eliminated the use of VOC-based paints.
Solvents are present in many products, including cleaning solutions, glue, paint thinner, detergent and furniture polishes. Listed as toluene, xylene, acetone or ethyl acetate on the product label, they’re added to dissolve other ingredients within the solution and evaporate once the product is applied.
Exposure may be limited for one-off projects, but spray painting cars can result in a significantly higher degree of exposure with short- and long-term consequences.
Dangers of Solvents
Also known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), solvents don’t evaporate like water but release toxins into the atmosphere. For those who work with VOCs, inhaling them results in soft tissue damage to the brain and nervous system, which may present as a light-headed feeling.
With time, the tissue damage builds up, potentially turning into chronic toxic encephalopathy, known for memory problems and decreased dexterity. Furthermore, the millions of workers exposed to solvents on a daily basis are at risk for developing reproductive, liver, kidney and respiratory issues, may contract dermatitis and have a higher risk of cancer.
Relatively new research from the Harvard School of Public Health has found that high, repeat exposure to solvents has long-lasting effects. Related cognitive issues may surface anywhere from 30 to 50 years after the initial exposure! In general, researchers found that higher exposure correlates with greater cognitive decline, especially involving attention, speed and memory.
Common Solvent Exposure
Seemingly ordinary household products contain these substances – including adhesives, epoxy and asphalt. Although solvent exposure is typically through inhalation, skin contact and ingestion are possible without protective gear and could lead to overexposure. What could happen?
- Short-Term: Symptoms typically come on quick, including dizziness, disorientation, decreased coordination, nausea, headaches, rashes or cracking skin and respiratory irritation.
- Repeat Exposure: The more you’re exposed to solvents, the greater your risk of developing blindness, liver, kidney and nervous system issues or an irregular heartbeat. If the solvent is also classified as a carcinogen, your risk for breast cancer increases too.
In addition to these factors, a study from the Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX) and the University of Colorado, Boulder found that repeat solvent exposure – even at lower levels – may alter the body’s endocrine system. By interfering with the body’s hormones, solvent exposure may contribute to:
- Lower birth rates
- Preterm births
- Abnormal sperm count
- Cardiovascular issues in developing babies
Once mixed with nitrogen oxides, VOCs react to sunlight and warm temperatures by producing a substance called ground-level ozone. In high concentrations, it can affect plants, animals, crops and building structures.
Current waste disposal practices discourage, if not prohibit, solvents from entering the environment. Yet for decades, companies could pour solvents into the ground, assuming they would evaporate. Instead, the soil absorbed them and the solvents contaminated the groundwater, especially in areas with shallow soil levels. As a result, more unsuspecting individuals are exposed to solvents through drinking water, cooking with it, taking a shower or using a public pool.
From the soil, solvents can also leech into building foundations and any underground plumbing or electrical systems, resulting in gradual damage. Solvents may even enter and contaminate a building or home’s indoor air through a process known as vapor intrusion.
To counteract these effects, DaSilva’s Auto Body offers green and eco-friendly services. Paint is low in VOCs and our shop safely disposes of all compounds used. To learn more or set up an appointment, give our Naugatuck shop a call today.