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  • Writer's pictureDavid Brodsky

What paint should I use? (health perspective) - Part 3

Updated: Dec 27, 2023


paint tray
paint tray

When it comes to deciding on a paint, one common consideration is health. Part 2 looked at the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) for one paint from a popular paint brand - Behr. This blog post will deal with a review of a paint brand from another popular competitor - Glidden. I will consider important elements of the SDS for a Glidden paint product and then make some comparisons to Behr. In part 4, I will be comparing both Behr and Glidden paint products to a marketed “healthy” brand paint from Ecos. 


Glidden has a list of SDSs for its products [1]. This review will look at the SDS for Glidden’s Ready Mix Black flat paint [2]. I will focus on five sections pertaining to health - Hazard

Identification, Composition, Handling and Storage, Exposure Controls, and Toxicological Information. 

Hazard Identification

What stands out immediately is “carcinogenicity category 2” and “suspected of causing cancer.” Not off to a very good start. Like with Behr, there is a focus on wearing protective clothing to prevent the product from making contact with skin. One additional note is “emits toxic fumes when heated.” The question is, how much heat is required to create these fumes? Would they be present during painting only, or would they constantly bleed out into the air after painting has been completed?


They note the presence of several ingredients that can be problematic to human health: “nepheline syenite, limestone, and carbon black.” In comparison, Behr has “titanium dioxide”, 2-Methyl-2H-isothiazol-3-one, and 5-Chloro-2-methyl-2H-isothiazo 26172-55-4 0 - 0.1 l-3-one” [3]. This information to me is useless because I am not a chemist or able to distinguish which of these chemicals is more or less hazardous to human health. Note also that sometimes chemicals, when presented by themselves are innocuous, but when placed in combination with others, are harmful. So, I cannot judge based on this information alone, whether there is a serious risk coming from one or the other product. 

Handling and Storage 

They mention the necessity of using personal protective equipment (discussed in the next section). They note “If this material is part of a multiple component system, read the Safety Data Sheet(s) for the other component or components before blending as the resulting mixture may have the hazards of all of its parts.” I wonder whether using a primer constitutes a “multiple component system". If it does, it raises an important issue. For safety, primers should be used (my opinion only) that correspond to company recommendations, since mixing and matching primers and paints may create a hazardous compound (not verified, I’m only speculating here; I have no evidence to support that concern). 

Exposure Controls 

Under “ingredients and exposure limits” they note a 15 min exposure threshold of 20mg/cubic meter and an 8 hour exposure threshold of 10mg/cubic meter (as dust) for all three ingredients. What this re-affirms then is the danger of sanding the product and creating respirable hazards (opinion).

Under “appropriate engineering controls” they write that “If user operations generate dust, fumes, gas, vapor or mist, use process enclosures, local exhaust ventilation or other engineering controls to keep worker exposure to airborne contaminants below any recommended or statutory limits.” That is to say that sanding, hot weather, and spray painting MAY all create an environment which requires specialty ventilation in order to reduce worker exposure to toxins (opinion, but that seems to be what is referred to). 

Under “hand protection” they write that “Chemical-resistant, impervious gloves complying with an approved standard should be worn at all times when handling chemical products if a risk assessment indicates this is necessary.” This is interesting since there’s no way for regular people to perform such risk assessments (opinion). As a general rule then, special gloves should be used when painting that prevent leaching through the material. They recommend “nitrile rubber, natural rubber (latex).” Latex gloves are readily available and affordable ($20 for a pair) materials, so that’s good news. 

Under “respiratory protection” they write “Respirator selection must be based on known or anticipated exposure levels, the hazards of the product and the safe working limits of the selected respirator. If workers are exposed to concentrations above the exposure limit, they must use appropriate, certified respirators. Use a properly fitted, air-purifying or air-fed respirator complying with an approved standard if a risk assessment indicates this is necessary.” Half-face painting respirators are affordable pieces of equipment (starting from $45) and afford protection against certain organic vapors. Paint cans should remain closed, rooms cool and ventilated, and curtains drawn to prevent excessive sunlight coming into the room. This creates a problem (how can you paint if you have curtains hanging), and this will create additional vapor exposure to workers. In any case, assuming that recently opened cans of paint emit some level of vapors (I’m not sure about this, just speculating), it is advisable to wear such a respirator at all times when working. Sanding and spray painting would require a higher level of respirator to remain safe activities (opinion). 

Toxicological Information 

Notable moments are the “IARC 2b carcinogen” classification and “No specific data” repeated in many areas of this section [2]. To qualify as a 2b carcinogen, the IARC states that the ingredient shows “limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans • sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals • strong mechanistic evidence, showing that the agent exhibits key characteristics of human carcinogens.” So, it’s not known whether the ingredient is carcinogenic, but it seems likely, which triggers the company’s various recommendations which amount to “better to be safe than sorry” (opinion). The lack of evidence on all other fronts isn’t a good thing. A lack of evidence indicates a lack of research interest or lack of time from research industry (opinion). Simply put, if the chemicals in these paints cause cancer, we’ll have to wait for a study in 40 years that compares painters during our time to non-painters in terms of rates of cancer (opinion). Similar studies have been conducted with lead paint to show its carcinogenicity. I speculate, but there’s nothing here that says that maybe these chemicals are just as toxic as lead, but we just don’t have enough data yet to conclude definitively yes or no with that. 

Further comparisons between brands

What I like about Glidden is that it is a bit more detailed in its SDS. Behr doesn’t mention the mixing issue under “Handling and Storage” and they’re more covert about the carcinogenicity of their product, whereas Glidden puts that information right up front in the “Hazard Identification” (opinion). Both companies might have an equally toxic product, but Glidden seems more upfront about theirs. 


Painting is an important task that one must do in their home in order to keep a certain aesthetic. It is a necessary task. Painters should exercise caution in their work and provide themselves and employees with clothing and respiratory equipment that affords them adequate protection for the work they do. They should limit or avoid spray painting and sanding unless appropriate PPE and ventilation conditions exist. In Part 4 of this blog post series, I will review an Ecos paint product in comparison with Behr and Glidden. In part 5, I will conclude this blog series by comparing two Ecos paint products to each other. 


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