Applying two-component paints involves health risks and both respiratory protection and coveralls must be used. The same applies when a surface already painted with thermosetting plastics is to be sanded or when the paint is being mixed. Those who are not careful risk lung disease and/or severe eczema.
Even though the health risks associated with two-component paints, also known as thermosetting plastics, have been known for a long time people still suffer unnecessarily. There are many examples of seafarers who have become ill after inhaling toxic vapours from the paint, or who have developed allergies and eczema after getting paint on their skin. There are no overall figures on the use of protective equipment when using two-component paints on ships. Eddie Janson believes that safety awareness in this area has improved; he works at the Maritrain consultancy, which has been involved with chemicals in maritime transport for many years.
“Workers don’t always know exactly what paints contain and why they are a health risk, but in general they recognise that there are risks and use suitable protective equipment. At least, that’s what I have experienced,” he says.
However, he feels there may still be doubts or uncertainties in some situations with thermosetting plastics where not enough care is taken, such as working with already painted surfaces. Even if the paint has been in place for many years, the toxic substances remain and when the paint is removed by grinding, welding or other heating processes, the toxins are released and create harmful dust or vapours that must not be inhaled.
“As long as the paint hardens as it should and is left alone there is no problem, but as soon as you start to work on it you must use protective gear. When you work with already painted surfaces, you need the same kind of protective equipment and filter mask as when you’re painting,” says Eddie Janson.
Another risk situation is when paint is being mixed. As the name implies, two-component paints have two parts: paint and hardener. The hardener is what makes the paint dry and creates a tough and durable surface, but in its liquid form it gives off toxic vapours that can damage the lungs and cause asthma and bronchitis.
“It is often mixed in the paint storeroom, but it’s much better to do it out on the deck in the fresh air,” says Eddie Janson. “It’s not always possible to do that in the cold season or in bad weather and sometimes you have to mix it indoors, so it’s important that there is good ventilation in that space. Whether you are indoors or outdoors, though, you must always have a good filter mask with fresh filters, as well as a protective coverall.”
“Another thing you need to think about when handling two-component paint is to mix it as it says in the product description,” says Eddie Janson. “The result will not be what you want otherwise.”
“If the proportions are wrong the paint will not harden and it continues to be toxic. But you notice it because the painted surface stays wet.”
Facts about two-component paints
This type of paint has two different components: paint and hardener. The paint provides a tough, durable surface that can withstand a lot of the wear and tear that cargo decks or ship hulls are exposed to, and does not need to be repainted as often as other types. Examples of common thermosetting plastics are epoxy, acrylate and polyurethane. When it has hardened the paint is harmless but if a painted surface is sanded or heated up, toxic substances may be released and lead to health problems for people exposed to them. Thermosetting plastics can cause skin problems in the form of eczema and swelling, lungs problems such as breathing difficulties, asthma and bronchitis and irritation to the eyes and mucous membranes. Thermosetting plastics may also be found in other products, such as varnishes and adhesives.