In 2004 interior designer Edward Bulmer was asked to plan the decoration of the Earl and Countess of March’s family house in Sussex. One child had severe eczema so Lady March asked Edward to use natural paints free of commonly used synthetic chemicals as she had heard that some might aggravate eczema, asthma and rhinitis. Edward set about creating paints using natural nontoxic materials including earth and mineral pigments, linseed oil, beeswax and milk casein.
The link between paint and eczema and other allergies was confirmed in 2010 when a landmark study from Harvard and Sweden’s Karlstad University showed that young children whose bedrooms had high concentrations of fumes emitted from common household water-based paints and cleaners appeared to have increased risks of asthma, rhinitis, eczema and multiple allergic diseases.
Researchers concluded that although chemicals called propylene glycol and glycol ethers (PGEs), used mainly as solvents, are widely considered safe, ‘they are significantly associated’ with a higher risk of allergic symptoms ‘and raise concerns for the vulnerability of infants and children’. PGEs belong to a group of chemicals called volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which have been introduced into consumer products in the past 50 years. As paint dries, VOCs are emitted as gases, a process known as ‘off-gassing’, which can persist for months or longer.
The study compared 198 children with asthma and allergies to 202 healthy children over a five-month period. Air samples were collected from their bedrooms and tested for VOCs. Children whose rooms had the highest concentration of PGEs had a significantly higher risk of eczema, asthma and rhinitis. Other synthetic chemicals used in paint have been strongly linked to an increased risk of childhood leukaemia and also to lung cancer in paint workers.
Nowadays, there is a legal requirement for companies to label all decorative products with their VOC content, according to the British Coatings Federation (coatings.org.uk). ‘However,’ it adds, ‘this is for regulatory purposes and will not necessarily be obvious to consumers’. So, not much help really.
After years of research, Edward launched his own truly natural paint company (edwardbulmerpaint.co.uk) in 2012. Unlike most other paint brands, every ingredient is listed, although this is not a regulatory requirement. While no paint is totally VOC-free, the VOC rating for Edward Bulmer Emulsion is less than 0.2 per cent, which is counted as zero.
IN THE HOUSE
Internal pollution is increasingly recognised as a threat to health. Most people spend nearly 90 per cent of their time indoors and three quarters of internal surfaces are covered in applied coatings, including paint, flooring and coverings of different kinds. While some of the toxic agents in paints (eg, benzene, phthalates and chromates) have been reduced, there is ‘the potential for exposure to hundreds of hazardous chemicals’ – particularly for decorators – according to the US National
Library of Medicine.
I became aware of internal pollution when I developed headaches, sore eyes and a fuzzy brain from a glue used for seagrass matting in my home. The smell of drying paint also affects me badly. Flooring supplier Bryan Robison (thecarpetbureau.co.uk) sourced a solvent-free, ultra-low-VOC-emission adhesive (Styccobond F41, f-ball.com), and I discovered Edward Bulmer’s paints through YOU interiors editor Clare Nolan. All the paints in
our house come from Edward’s range. They look gorgeous, our painter loves using them and the faint smell of natural compounds disappears within 24 hours.
FROM PAINT TO PANS
Continuing the theme of chemicals I prefer not to have in my house, I am a huge fan of cooking with GreenPans (greenpan.co.uk) – and so is my Beauty Bible colleague Jo Fairley. The USP of GreenPans is its ceramic, nonstick coating, which doesn’t blister or peel and can resist temperatures of up to 450C. Many traditional nonstick pans are coated in PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene, or Teflon), which is only heat-resistant to 260C. After that point, the PTFE can release fumes that may be harmful to humans.