The Real Environmental Impact of Solvent-Based Paints

Solvent-based (SB) paints can contain up to 70% Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) which are hazardous carbon-derived solvents. Due to their harmful nature, the level of VOCs recommended within paints and varnishes is covered by Environmental Protection product regulations [1] As such, they require special handling, storage and disposal to ensure they do not cause a threat to health or damage to the environment and are subject to specific Health & Safety Executive guidelines, i.e. Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) [2].

In SB paints, the VOCs act as the liquid carrier of the resin binder and pigments that will form the hardened paint film once it cures. Especially high expose to the VOCs is caused during paint spraying but it continues as the solvents are released as the paint film cures.  Released VOCs circulating in the workplace can cause a variety of detrimental health effects from prolonged exposure, such as asthma, dermatitis and liver, kidney or neurological diseases.  Ultimately the VOCs are exhausted to the environment through extraction or migration, where it will combine with other greenhouse gases and contribute to environmental damage and global warming effects.

The solvents used in producing SB paints are typically derived from the hydrocarbon chemical stream and thereby in themselves have a very high carbon footprint which is even more detrimental to the environment than that of the solvent-based paint.

In conclusion, up to 70% by volume, of an SB paint consumed by an enterprise or product is actually an hydrocarbon solvent that can create health risks and damage the environment. This means that for every 10L of SB paint consumed, a potential 7L of VOC solvents are emitted to the workplace and environment. Choosing to use SB paints can thereby substantially contribute to the environmental impact of an enterprise.

Under COSHH regulations an employer is responsible for preventing or reducing workers exposure to hazardous substances. One way to achieve this is through substance substitution, where an employer looks to replace a hazardous material with an alternative product which presents less or no risk. Water-based (WB) paints are a positive solution for employees to reducing workers exposure to hazardous VOCs from SB coatings [3].

WB paints use water as the primary solvent, and they thereby have much lower levels of VOC and are therefore, by their nature, a significantly lower hazard  to the health of employees and the environment and do not require special storage with regards to flammability. Choosing WB paints in place of SB paints is a far more sustainable solution and a positive choice for the Environmental Management of an enterprise in line with ISO 14001.


[2] HSE COSSH Guidelines ;

[3] Substance substitution – COSHH (

For more information on our customer service offer please see the related section of our website and for

[Z] BERGER-ZOBEL please follow the link

About the author

Leave a Reply