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The Hazards of Lacquer & Paint

Alexis Writing

They're on our walls and ceilings, our floors and sometimes on our nails. In their dried, completed state, paints and lacquers are safe to be around and touch, and breathe near. During the application of these finishes, however, there are several hazards to take into consideration that sometimes cause mild to severe health problems, and even death.

Inhaling Fumes

Most lacquers and paints contain hazardous materials that, when in their raw form, are often dangerous with which to work.The urethanes in lacquers, and cyanates in paints, are harmful when inhaled in any large quantity. These chemicals enter the lungs during inhalation and deposit themselves in the fibrous walls of that organ, causing irritation and swelling. Symptoms of inhalation are a sore throat, coughing, wheezing and difficulty breathing. When large quantities of isocyanates are inhaled, the bloodstream is affected, and dizziness and blackouts sometimes occur. To avoid the symptoms of inhalation, it is important to paint or spray in a well-ventilated area while using approved safety masks that filter out the offending chemicals. If already suffering from symptoms, move to an open area with plenty of fresh air. Seek medical attention.

Contact With the Eyes

During spray application of lacquer and paint, tiny liquid particles containing urethanes and cyanates often land in a person's eyes, lodging in the mucus membranes. This causes watering, swelling, and even temporary or permanent blindness depending upon the amount of chemicals that have made it into the eyes. Using properly fitting safety goggles is the easiest and most effective way to avoid eye exposure. If exposure occurs, it is important to flush the eyes with cold sterile water for at least 15 minutes and seek medical attention.

Prolonged Skin Contact

Short-term exposure of the skin to lacquer and paint is not likely to result in any health issues. If working with these chemicals on a regular basis, however, it is important to keep them off of the skin as much as possible. The first indication of a problem due to prolonged exposure is red itchy skin, or contact dermatitis. If these conditions appear, the affected area needs to be washed thoroughly with soap and water. If the symptoms do not improve or get worse, seek medical attention. In rare cases, an allergy is the cause of discomfort and the results are much more serious.


Cyanates and urethanes enter the digestive system in much the same way they enter the lungs. During the course of spraying, particles of paint make their way to the mouth and are swallowed, lodging in the mouth, esophagus and stomach. Prolonged or mass exposure of these chemicals in the digestive tract causes a burning sensation and stomach upset. If paint or lacquer is ingested in any substantial quantity, do not induce vomiting. If conscious, the affected person is to drink water or milk, and seek immediate medical attention. If unconscious, do not force liquids; get the person to a doctor as quickly as possible.