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Exposure to Paint Fumes

John is a 25-year-old man who had commenced work in the painting industry. He had for several weeks been exposed to aerosol fumes through spray painting in a poorly ventilated environment and he is becoming worried about his health as a result of this John finds he gets immediate eye and nasal irritation when he enters the area that spraying is occurring in. He also finds more prolonged exposure causes headaches (not migrainous) and nausea. He presented to his GP as he had done some research on the Internet and was worried about his liver and kidneys.

John stated that the active chemicals he is most worried about in the paint were mainly volatile organic solvents and that they were lead free. He says the spray painting is achieved via an air assisted airless spray gun, which forces air and fluid under high pressure pumping to produce an aerosol version of the coating.

What John described was a mucosal irritant contact dermatitis due to the fumes. Headaches, nausea, diarrhoea, fatigue and dizziness are also recognised reactions. John is right to be concerned as long-term effects from inhalation include occupational asthma, more generalised contact dermatitis, lung cancer, nephritis, hepatitis and painter’s syndrome (organic solvent intoxication causing encephalopathy and dementia that does not progress when the exposure to causal agents cease).

John had blood tests arranged and his liver function, kidney function, dipstick urinalysis and full blood count were all normal. Physical examination showed no rashes or organomegaly.

Needless to say, employers have a duty to provide a safe working environment and effective ventilation was required in John’s workplace.


Australian Government Comcare, Spray painting. 20 March 2014.