Water based paints contain organic solvents and many additives, such as biocides, surfactants, pigments, binders, amines, and monomers. The chemical complexity may introduce new potential health hazards to house painters, in particular irritative and allergic disorders. This study was performed to compare how house painters experience work with water based paints or solvent based paints, and to evaluate whether exposure to water based paints increases mucous membrane and dermal symptoms among house painters. 255 male house painters aged 20 to 65 were invited to participate in the study. Controls were two industrial populations, in total 302 men, without exposure to water based paints. Self administered questionnaires were used to assess the painter's experiences of working with different types of paints and the occurrence of symptoms in the exposed and unexposed groups. Hygiene measurements were performed during normal working days when only water based paints and no solvent based paints were used. The painters were exposed to low concentrations of dust, metals, ammonia, formaldehyde, and volatile organic compounds. The work environment was considered better when working with water based paints than with solvent based paints. There were more complaints of frequent urination when working with water based paint. Taste or olfactory disturbances were less common. General as well as work related eye and skin irritation was more common among the exposed workers. For other symptoms no significant differences were found. The study indicates that the introduction of water based paints has improved the work environment for house painters. Water based paints cause less discomfort and airway irritation than the earlier solvent based paints. Adverse general health effects seem low. Some of the painters may have dermal symptoms caused by the components in water based paints.
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