There are many factors to consider before beginning a painting project. Special care should be taken when sanding a surface to prepare it for painting due to the dust released into the air. The dust may contain lead particles, if the surface contains lead-based paint. Exposure to excessive levels of lead could affect a child's mental growth, and interfere with nervous system development, which could cause learning disabilities and impaired hearing. In adults, lead can increase blood pressure. Unless a lead-based paint test or inspection shows it doesn't, you should treat paint in homes and buildings built before 1978 as if it contained lead.
Most paints give off volatile organic compounds, commonly referred to as VOCs. These chemicals evaporate into the air and could lead to indoor air quality problems. The ability of these chemicals to cause health effects varies greatly. As with any chemical, the likelihood of a reaction and the extent and type of health effect will depend on many factors. These factors include the amount of chemical in the indoor air, the length of time a person is exposed to the chemical, and a person's age, pre-existing medical conditions and individual susceptibility. Eye and throat or lung irritation, headaches, dizziness and vision problems are among the immediate symptoms that some people have experienced soon after exposure to some of these chemicals.
In professional painters, who are exposed to high levels of paint vapors for long periods of time, some chemicals in paints have damaged the nervous system, liver and kidneys. Some chemicals cause cancer or reproductive and developmental effects in laboratory animals. Because of these concerns, susceptible people, such as young children and individuals with breathing problems, should avoid paint vapors. To avoid any health risks for themselves and their unborn babies, pregnant women should avoid undertaking painting projects and should limit their time in freshly painted rooms, especially when oil-based paints are being used.