Environmental Risks of Paint

Whether it’s particles released during surface preparation or contamination of wastewater, painting contractors, decorators and SMEs should be aware of the harmful effects of paint on the environment. Below we summarise the main risks and why this makes it important for brokers to offer clients comprehensive environmental liability insurance cover.

Chemical Compounds

Binders, pigments, solvents and thousands of other chemical compounds are found in paint. Surface preparation products, rust converters and paint removers also contain toxic solvents and corrosive chemicals. Asbestos was used as a filler in interior and exterior paints and textured surfacing materials until the early 1980s. Paint contains many organic solvents, including alcohols, aliphatic compounds and xylene, all of which can be toxic to both human and animal life. If not disposed of appropriately, or if allowed to leach into the surrounding areas, these aggressive substances can severely damage full ecosystems.


Hazardous components from paint materials can include elements detrimental to animal and environmental health, such as lead, chromium, solvents and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Once a coating of paint has been applied and it begins to dry, VOCs are released, which is one of the largest environmental risks of paint. Volatile chemicals off-gassing indoors can become entrained in the HVAC system and impact occupants throughout a building.


Accidental spills and leaks of materials, such as paints, sealants, solvents and lacquers, at the location of storage, at a job site, during transportation or loading and unloading can contaminate soil and groundwater or runoff into storm water systems. This can lead to third-party liability and clean-up liability. Wastewater from equipment washing can also lead to a release or spill if not properly contained or handled.

Surface Blasting

Methods of preparing surfaces for the application of paint (such as sanding or blasting) often release harmful dusts and pollutant particles. Moreover, surface preparation may disturb existing lead-based paint or asbestos-containing material and result in the release of inhalable particles or fibres.


Paint removal done by water blasting to residential, commercial or industrial structures requires proper containment systems to capture the resulting wastewater. Wastewater that is improperly contained has the potential to contaminate soil, groundwater and surface water.

Lead-Based Paint

Housing built before 1978 may have lead-based paint under more recent layers of applied paint. This paint can be dislodged, releasing lead particles into the surrounding environment during removal, repair or cleaning of painted building materials. Even accidental releases may occur during targeted abatement. Although lead-based paint has been discontinued for general consumer use, both lead and chromium-based paints continue to be available for use for outdoor structures, such as bridges and water towers, and at industrial sites. Additional pollution risks and exposures may be present at these work sites and failure to adhere to strict protocols for heavy metal particle containment, waste handling and disposal can increase risk exposure.

Improper Disposal

Improper disposal of wastes can lead to off-site soil and groundwater contamination and environmental tort liability. Materials such as discarded paint products, non-empty aerosol cans, solvent soaked rags and wastewater from equipment washing or water blasting can be classified as hazardous waste and require special disposal procedures. Job site waste can also be considered hazardous if it contains asbestos or lead-based paint. Businesses are required to determine themselves whether the waste they generate is hazardous. Unlabelled or mislabelled containers can contribute to improper handling and disposal.

Get Environmental Liability Insurance Cover from LBU

If it’s improperly handled and disposed of, the harmful effects of paint on the environment can be significant, leading to insurance claims worth millions. Make sure your clients are adequately covered for such environmental risks with an environmental impairment liability insurance policy from Land Based Underwriters. Contact us today to get access to our SME environmental insurance product.