Healthy Materials Lab Guide to Safer Paint Options

October 17, 2018

Parsons The New School’s Healthy Materials Lab is making wellness-focused design decisions as easy as flipping through a book the size of a children’s story.

The Healthy Materials Lab has spent about half a decade researching and categorizing building materials, providing users with a clear and thorough breakdown of what goes into a product to allow them to make healthier choices.

Another aspect of the lab is to make healthy materials and beautiful design a standard, no matter one’s economic standing. Working with local municipalities in New York City, The Healthy Materials Lab released Color x Health: Affordable Housing Starts with Healthier Spaces.

The 36-page booklet – available to the public as a PDF on its website – makes choosing low- or non-VOC paints for interiors simple.

Environmental Health Concerns

The manual begins with breaking down the importance of choosing healthier materials.

“Many building materials appear stable and sturdy on the surface,” it states. “But these same materials look drastically different on a molecular scale. If you were able to zoom in with a microscope, you would see chemicals released as dust, fumes and liquid-soluble compounds. These chemicals can enter our air, food and water supplies, and therefore increase our risk of potential exposure.”

Hallway of a motel - healthier building materials

When it comes to VOCs, oftentimes they are out of sight, out of mind – at least after the smell of the material off-gassing has disappeared. However, end users can be exposed to molecular compounds that can enter their bodies via inhalation, ingestion, dermal absorption, placental transfer and breastfeeding.

[Help Clean the Air: 5 Air Purifying Indoor Plants]

The negative health effects from such exposure can be debilitating.

A recent report by Carlos R. Restrepo and Rae Zimmerman on the environmental health of public spaces in South Bronx, N.Y., states that “youth and children living in the Bronx suffer from staggering rates of asthma hospitalization. The rate of emergency room visits for children ages 0-17 in the Bronx was 444.2 per 10,000 – nearly twice the overall city rate for the same age group.”

Although it’s a complicated subject, creating affordable, wellness-focused interiors is paramount in decreasing the frequency of environment-related health concerns.

[Related: The Terrifying Resurfacing of Asbestos]

Making the Solution Simple

After pointing out the issues that can occur via VOCs, Color x Health doesn’t leave the reader feeling helpless. Instead, the booklet works as an easy-pick manual.

Using low- and non-VOC paints from brands Benjamin Moore, ROMABIO and Sherwin-Williams, suggested pallets for a number of spaces (e.g. daycare centers and affordable-housing apartments) are prepared by the design experts at Parsons The New School.

Each pallet suggests a space, shows an interior image of how the colors can be used, and provides swatches of each color.

This is the genius of the Color x Health manual: The problems are laid out clearly, then the solutions take that clarity and simplicity up a notch. Providing a range of color pallets in paints available at an accessible price-point gives any building owner or facility manager the power to create a healthier environment.

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About the author
Kadie Yale | Former Architecture & Design Expert

Kadie Yale holds a BA in Industrial Design from San Francisco State University and MA in Decorative Art History and Theory from Parsons the New School.