Building and paint products

How do building and paint products affect indoor air pollution?

New construction or remodeling materials may emit fumes or dust that can endanger your health. Older building materials can release indoor air pollutants when disturbed or removed.

New building materials, paint and furnishings

  • Building materials, like plywood, furniture and other pressed-wood products, often contain chemicals that give off gases and odors as the materials age.1 These products can give off formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the indoor air. Using several products at the same time may mix several different chemical fumes in the same indoor space.1
  • Paints, adhesives, solvents, polishes, carpeting and cleaning products also can emit VOCs, formaldehyde, benzene and other toxic chemicals as they age.1, 2, 3
  • “Chinese drywall” is a term for problem drywall installed in buildings along the Gulf Coast states and in Virginia. Most of these homes had new drywall installed after 2003. Some people who installed that drywall have reported health problems such as coughing, shortness of breath, nausea, headaches and fatigue.4 Federal agency investigations found the drywall from China gave off high levels of hydrogen sulfide indoors. The federal government has recommended that problem drywall in homes be reported and removed.5

Older building materials and paint

  • Older building products, like tiles, insulation or drywall, may contain asbestos. Homes built before 1978 are likely to contain lead paint.6 Tearing out or demolishing these materials can release dangerous chemicals into the air or dust.
  • Plasticizersin some flooring, pipes and other materials have been linked to a range of potential health problems. However, it is not clear if they cause or contribute to those problems.7

How can I protect my family?

  • Look for building materials and paint with low or no emissions. Many building materials can be produced with alternative chemicals that emit less. For example, some products are made with resins that emit less formaldehyde. Coating or laminating furniture or cabinets may reduce formaldehyde emissions.1 Avoid buying products that contain benzene (causes cancer) or methylene chloride (converts to carbon monoxide in the body).8
  • Talk to your contractor or building material provider to ensure you get products with low emissions. Know that the definition of “low-VOC” may differ depending on the manufacturer and the materials.
  • Request that building materials and carpets be aired out in a well-ventilated space before installing them in your home.
  • When using these products, keep the area well ventilated. Read the labels on all products you purchase and follow the manufacturer’s advice on ventilation. Open the window and run an exhaust fan.
  • Buy as little as needed to complete a project. Never leave opened containers of unused paint or paint thinners indoors.
  • Use caution when remodeling or demolishing older homes. If lead paint or asbestos may be present, try not to disturb those materials. Cover them up and leave them alone. If you must disturb them, follow recommendations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or seek professional help.
  • If someone in your family suffers from health problems you suspect may be related to a building or paint product, contact your health care provider. Have your medical provider notify public health authorities of unusual problems.

For more information on safe construction and remodeling, check out New Construction and Remodeling Tips.


  1. California Air Resources Board (CARB). Report to the California Legislature: Indoor Air Pollution in California. Sacramento, CA: California Environmental Protection Agency. 2005.
  2. Institute of Medicine. Clearing the Air: Asthma and Indoor Air Exposures. Washington, DC: National Academies Press. 2000.
  3. Jaakkola JJK, Leromnimon A, Jaakkola MS. Interior Surface Materials and Asthma in Adults: A Population-based Incident Case-control Study. American Journal of Epidemiology. 164(8) 2006: 742-9.
  4. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Imported Drywall and Health - A Guide for Healthcare Providers. September 2009. Accessed June 24, 2010.
  5. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and U.S. Consumer Product Safety Council. HUD and CPSC Issue Guidance on Repairing Homes with Problem Drywall. April 2, 2010. Accessed June 24, 2010.
  6. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Lead-Based Paint. Accessed February 24, 2010. Needleman, Herbert. Lead Poisoning. Annual Review of Medicine. 55, 2004: 209-22.
  7. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fourth National Report on the Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals. July 2010. Accessed November 14, 2010
  8. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). An Introduction to Indoor Air Quality: Volatile Organic Compounds. Accessed on November 14, 2010.