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Handle waterborne with caution

While waterborne paints are ecologically superior to the solvent-based paints they have replaced in many repair shops, they still need to be treated as hazardous materials by those who apply them to vehicles.

That was the message from the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS) education committee at the association’s board meeting July 20 in Chicago. It seems that some shops are not handling the water-based paints with enough caution, according to Paul Val of Raintree Auto Body in Scottsdale, Ariz., and chairman of the education committee.

“If you walked into some shops you would be amazed at what you see,” Val said at the meeting. “Some shops are under the misperception that waterborne paints are safe and you don’t need to wear a mask or proper protective clothing. They are unnecessarily exposing themselves – and in some cases their coworkers – to the water-based paints, which still contain harmful substances.”

The committee’s report included a list of health risks associated with exposure to automotive refinish paints. The list includes respiratory disease, neurological effects, cancer, skin disorders, liver disease, chemical poisoning, kidney disease, cancer, asthma and death.  Exposure can result from breathing the paint’s chemicals or absorbing them through exposed skin.

Education committee member Gary Wano Jr. of GW & Sons Auto Body in Oklahoma City, Okla., said some shops that have converted to waterborne paints now only use their paint booths to spray the clearcoat, which is not available as a waterborne paint.  

“I have been told of the dozen or so repairers in Oklahoma that have converted to waterborne, there is a large portion of them that have restricted the paint booths to clearcoat application only,” Wano says. “Some repairers are utilizing the production floor for the water-base application, because of their (mistaken) perception that there is no volatile chemistry in the water-based product.”

He said some shops are doing that to improve their workflow, because the paint booth is often the pinch point in the auto body repair process. But the boosted production is not worth exposing workers to the hazardous materials that still exist in waterborne paints.

Education committee member Toby Chess said the owner is responsible for making sure personal protective equipment is being used.

“Painters must wear gloves, coveralls and have a proper breathing apparatus,” he said. “Every shop must have a plan for isocyanates protection.”

While waterborne paints contain much lower levels of organic solvents and are less toxic than solvent-based paints, shops still need to use proper control technologies and protective equipment to minimize emissions of air toxics and prevent respiratory, eye and dermal exposure, the committee said.

See related story: The Greening of America: Waterborne paint pays off in dollars and for the environment.

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