Paints, Finishes and Seals

Most paints emit numerous Toxic Air Contaminants (TACs) and emissions can continue for extended periods of time. It is estimated that less than fifty percent of the VOCs (volatile organic compounds) in latex paint are emitted in the first year. This means that much of the dangerous toxins continue to be inhaled long after the paint has dried. The poisonous emissions come from substances such as ethylene glycol, formaldehyde, acetaldehyde and benzene, for example.
But low-VOC or zero-VOC does not mean that a paint is safe. To begin, paint manufacturers are not required to divulge all the ingredients in their products. On paint cans and in the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) you will see words like "fillers" or "additives" or "pigments" or "proprietary ingredients."

Furthermore, regulated VOC pollutants are only the pollutants that contribute to outdoor air quality -- "smog" -- and not pollutants affecting indoor air quality. This means that many of the no-VOC paints could contain unregulated toxins that are harmful to indoor air quality, such as ammonia, acetone, butyl acetate and formaldehyde.

Here is a list of harmful chemicals commonly found in paints and other building materials.

Interior Paint Options
Old-Fashioned Milk Paint gives a matte-look, but it will not cover up imperfections the way acrylic does. It is one of the healthiest options available. It is highly breathable.

Keim makes a number of mineral-based paints with potassium silicate as its main ingredient. Keim also makes lime plasters and patching compounds. Keim paints are all-natural, very durable, and allow for good vapor permeability. They are biocide-free, but the paint is preserved with a small amount of ammonia that dissipates very quickly -- within an hour or two. Be sure to talk to the manufacturer about your existing wall surfaces, to make sure there is compatibility and to determine whether or not priming is necessary. Keim paints can only be tinted with Keim tints. Do not apply Keim paint over existing oil-based paints. Keim mineral paints are highly breathable and allow for good moisture-vapor permeability, so they will not block moisture, even after multiple coats.

American Clay Plaster is 100% natural and odor free. It is a gorgeous natural wall finish and it's very easy to repair yourself, unlike painted surfaces. American Clay is not only highly breathable, but actually helps to regulate the moisture in the room.

BioSheild makes a zero-voc and solvent-free paint and is also kind enough to share their ingredient list: water, chalk,  asbestos-free talcum, titanium dioxide, polyphosphate (a water softener), cellulose, alcohol ester, sodium hydroxide, and "preservative."

Other natural paints to consider:

AMF SafeCoat
Yolo Colorhouse
American Clay

Acrylic Paints:
EnviroSafe - Probably the healthiest completely biocide-free acrylic paint. The acrylic is made from cellulose rather than from petroleum products. EnviroSafe paints should only be tinted with no-VOC Colortrends Plus 802 or Colortrends 808.  
EarthPaint carries a few different options for interior and exterior paints, some containing "pure acrylic" without vinyle or other mysterious additives. 

Exterior Paints:
See links above: EarthPaint, Keim, Silicote, Romabio.

Wood Finishes and Seals:
Tung oil creates a beautiful interior wood finish, but, it is very aromatic and I wouldn't recommend it to someone with high levels of sensitivity. It takes weeks to months for the odor (which isn't an unpleasant one) to recede. It was raised to my attention that a study has linked tung oil to the activation of the Epstein-Barr virus:

It might be worth experimenting with linseed oil or walnut oil. I have no experience with either.

I've heard good things about Vermont Natural Coatings. They make a wood finish/seal that is reportedly well tolerated by some people with MCS/ EI.

EarthPaint carries some interesting products worth checking out. I've used their Mountain Wood Finish, made from a cashew based resin, but the D-limonene in it is extremely aromatic during application and takes weeks to complete out-gassing. Their acrylic based NanoTech wood seal is much less odorous.

Surprising, water-based polyurethanes (such as Minwax and Varethane) are often well-tolerated by those will severe sensitivities after two or so weeks of outgassing, leaving a scent-free, hard, clear coating.  Be aware though that some water-based polyurethane finishes contain chemicals called glycols that may outgas for several months.

Moisture Protection/ Water-Proofing:

Miracle Cover is an all-purpose waterproofing seal that I've used on exterior siding and trim. It is a water-based silicone product with no smell after drying

Silicone Magic is another silicone-based waterproofing product worth checking out.

Grout Sealer
AMF Grout Sealer