My Beautiful Death
December 1, 2018 2:29 AM   Subscribe

"I spent up to 12 hours a day grinding and sanding the shells." Artist Gillian Genser writes about art, shells, death and heavy metal poisoning. (SL Toronto Life)
posted by frumiousb (52 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
 
Whoa
posted by PistachioRoux at 2:42 AM on December 1, 2018 [3 favorites]


This will be the defining story for our era, when our grandchildren look back at our stupidity, shortsightedness, and greed.
posted by infini at 2:58 AM on December 1, 2018 [6 favorites]


It also seems to be a cautionary tale of workplace safety — I’ve met a lot of artists who don’t attend to the dangers of particulates and chemicals. It doesn’t sound like she was properly ventilating her workspace, using masks, checking the materials for safety and so on. There’s also an element of the pervasive belief that “natural” means “safe and healthy.”

Now, to prevent this from being all oh her, I find it disturbing that her art courses did not apparently prepare her for dealing with hazardous supplies and that none of her doctors seem to have considered her profession as a clue (heavy metal poisoning among painters wasn’t uncommon at least into the middle of the last century, and solvents are their own realm of danger).

It’s a really sad and infuriating story. I’m not sure art (even though it’s super-interesting) is worth that.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:25 AM on December 1, 2018 [40 favorites]


Her work, as showcased in the article, is beautiful.

I feel as if so much illness around us is environmental. Most of the women in my family have been diagnosed with autoimmune disorders. An older family member died of a type of blood cancer and I vividly recall a questionnaire coming in the mail that asked about that person's exposure to toxins and thinking, oh shit, because they were exposed to those exact toxins while doing an occupation they were passionate about. They were also old enough to have lived with asbestos and stuff all over the place, and believed that was a factor. This story absolutely has an element of "Why didn't anyone see?" but there are so many things making us sick today.
posted by BibiRose at 4:11 AM on December 1, 2018 [7 favorites]


I ended up stopping going to the local hackspace because of the fumes from the 3D printers (which have since been shown to be fairly hazardous IIRC). This kind of cavalier attitude to workplace safety seems to be fairly common unfortunately.
posted by pharm at 4:22 AM on December 1, 2018 [13 favorites]


Her work is amazing, and I am so sorry for her.
posted by warriorqueen at 4:27 AM on December 1, 2018 [9 favorites]


Artists have always existed with poison and poisoning, often knowing they were doing it; the only tragedy here is that she did not know. And I note that even when she did know, she figured out a way to complete the work.

When I was in art school in the 70s, we were still using many known poisons (lead white is only one; off the top of my head I can think of the cadmium colors and cobalt) with complete knowledge that they were toxic, and there are those who still mourn the unavailability of those substances. Later, I worked in a conservation studio in a major art museum where the lead conservator used to sit with open bowls of toluene, xylol, or acetone, wiping paintings down with cotton balls, while smoking a cigarette; his concession to safety was the fume hood over his head. It may or may not be relevant that he died relatively young. The worst story was of woman of my acquaintance who worked with fiberglass while her young child was in the studio. The child had developmental delays which might have been associated with the solvents used.

But human beings do this kind of thing often, and with relative degrees of ignorance. Marie Curie continued to work with radium. Coal miners go down knowing that black lung may result. People ingest illegal (and legal) drugs that, even without questionable manufacturing controls or substitution of dangerous extenders, are demonstrably toxic. And what of many other professions in which poisoning or substance-related disease is a demonstrated effect? Human beings cause their own mortality with superb denial, often claiming a higher cause while they're doing it. Sometimes it's worth it.

Part of why I'm no longer a working artist was that I was no longer to convince myself that making art was sufficiently important.
posted by Peach at 4:47 AM on December 1, 2018 [23 favorites]


An unpleasant reminder to run a lead test strip across a newly arrived set of jumper cables (imported, of course).

This will be the defining story for our era, when our grandchildren look back at our stupidity, shortsightedness, and greed.

I'm not bonkers about it; but I really don't give the planet more than a few hundred years more at the present rate of usage/abusage.
posted by Afghan Stan at 4:56 AM on December 1, 2018 [2 favorites]


I took a history of photography class last year and we talked about how daguerreotypes were developed by exposing them to mercury vapor. Needless to say exposing yourself to boiling mercury wasn't great for the long term health of the photographers.
posted by octothorpe at 5:03 AM on December 1, 2018 [3 favorites]


Back when I was working in a jewelry production house, one of the pieces we had in the line had this one gold part which had a high surface with a pattern cast into it as crevices and those were meant to be stained black.

In jewelry making we have this stuff that is a black stuff that gets painted onto a part and then you take an acetone-soaked rag and you wipe it off all the top surfaces and it stays the cracks and such. It's a great effect, really.

So, we had a run of 5000 of these pieces, and part of my job was to do this process to get the black into the right places. I'd paint up a bunch of the parts, let them dry, and then take a rag, wrap it around my finger, and dip it in acetone and wipe off all the top bits leaving the "antiquing" effect in the cracks and gaps.

I did this for weeks. Painting parts, drying them, then dip and wipe with a rag wrapped around my finger. And over those weeks, my world slowly grew smaller. The technicolor of everyday living drained out and the panoramic view of the world both contracted until I was living in a tiny, grey, angry and sad tunnel of existence.

Then, one day, a friend of mine handed me a book which I think was called "Is Your Art Killing You?" with a post-it note bookmark on the page about acetone. HOLY FUCKING SHIT!

Yes, my art WAS killing me. I bought a box of disposable gloves to wear while wrapping the cloth around my finger and dipping it into acetone and within a week, it was like when Dorothy opens the door and she's landed in Oz and it's suddenly all in color!

I wish I could find my copy of that book. It wasn't fancy, it was just an alphabetical list of things with paragraphs about each and you could read about what the issues were with a substance and how to avoid adverse effects.

Yes, your art can kill you. Get educated.
posted by hippybear at 5:27 AM on December 1, 2018 [57 favorites]


I suggest that her doctors didn't do well enough by her-- when someone shows up with a bunch of mysterious symptoms, it's time for blood tests to check for both deficiencies and poisoning.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 5:28 AM on December 1, 2018 [24 favorites]


Later, I worked in a conservation studio in a major art museum where the lead conservator used to sit with open bowls of toluene, xylol, or acetone, wiping paintings down with cotton balls, while smoking a cigarette; his concession to safety was the fume hood over his head. It may or may not be relevant that he died relatively young.

Manon Cleary, a locally well-known painter and teacher in DC, lived painfully on a respirator for the last years of her life after working with oils in poorly-ventilated rooms for decades.

She was also a smoker, so it may only have been a contributing factor - but I suspect this is a more common danger to artists than is broadly acknowledged.
posted by ryanshepard at 5:53 AM on December 1, 2018 [6 favorites]


Horrifying, just horrifying.

And yes, I feel like some doctor should have said, "Hey, you have symptoms of heavy metal poisoning, let's check your blood." Sure she didn't report any exposure, but patients are unreliable narrators and doctors deal with that every single day. Of course, in this case the patient is also the reporter writing the article—who knows how closely it aligns with what a dispassionate, omniescent observer would report.

Still, how utterly awful for her.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:55 AM on December 1, 2018 [4 favorites]


hippybear, you know that acetone will penetrate a latex or nitrile glove like it's cotton, right? I mean, just for future reference. I say this as someone whose first real job involved using acetone-soaked rags to wipe excess caulk off of the timbers of sailing ships that were under construction. Which I did barehanded, because I was eighteen and indestructible.

While everyone wants an inexpensive, disposable glove to use with acetone, there is no disposable glove that offers protection from it or any other chemical in the ketone class.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:00 AM on December 1, 2018 [20 favorites]


Yeah I'm also non-plussed with the doctors in this story. You don't ask someone if they're working with toxic shit if they're showing signs of poisoning. No one does that voluntarily, especially if they're not a teenager. You just assume they are and they don't know, so you test for it.

I should probably get tested for lead; there was some reno work I did a decade ago that was probably questionable. Though I don't know what they could do about it now.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:18 AM on December 1, 2018 [8 favorites]


Yeah when I was in art school no one talked about material safety, printmaking students used stuff like xylol without gloves, people routinely reached into acid baths with bare hands instead of tongs, people were smoking in studios - it was crazy. My mother was a chemist so I grew up learning better. I have a serious hood in my studio now and am very particular about material safety because I've seen too many people do real damage by being sloppy and not doing their research. This woman's story has popped up in a number of online art discussions and it's so sad and was so unnecessary!
posted by leslies at 6:26 AM on December 1, 2018 [6 favorites]


I am so glad I work digitally now.
posted by egypturnash at 7:16 AM on December 1, 2018 [3 favorites]


Also kind of terrifying is that people were probably eating the mussel flesh which was also likely to have heavy metal contamination.

The flip side of this story is that seashells being able to absorb toxic heavy metals is a huge plus for countries with polluted water supplies and abundant shell waste.
posted by srboisvert at 7:16 AM on December 1, 2018 [2 favorites]


A very long time ago when I was in art school they used to give us free supplies. The solvents we needed for the oil paints almost instantly gave me headaches so I gave my oils away and switched to acrylics.

I am very grateful now that the young, indestructible me made that decision because I am still seriously painting some 30 odd years later.
posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 8:03 AM on December 1, 2018 [6 favorites]


Even without the industrial pollution aspect, there are heavy metals in nature - you shouldn’t ever put fireplace ashes on your vegetable garden. The ashes have concentrations of toxic materials the tree has brought up from the soil over it's lifetime.

I've just started mother of pearl purfling and inlay on a ukulele and all the instructional materials I've seen have cautioned about the dust....I guess I’ll take that a bit more seriously.

I have to admit though, that since moving into an apartment, I've been working wood with hand tools and my dust collection system is a broom and dustpan. I use a shop vac vented out the door after I’ve done a lot of sawing. I could wear a mask but it quickly overheats me when I'm exerting myself.

I want to enjoy my hobby-even if it might be shortening my life a little bit.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:16 AM on December 1, 2018 [5 favorites]


The artist's website.

Her 'Adam' is gorgeous and tragic.

And now I wonder about eating mussels and other shellfish ...
posted by bunderful at 8:26 AM on December 1, 2018 [4 favorites]


Aggressive ventilation helps a lot, but as someone who works in construction I'd suggest just getting used to wearing a mask. Unless you have a heart or lung condition, in which case talk to your doctor first, but if you're a basically healthy person you can become accustomed to mask-wearing. I know it sucks at first and you hate it and blah blah blah but, again, as a construction worker I've come to find that kind of macho whining exceedingly tiresome. It's only bad at first. You will adjust.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 8:28 AM on December 1, 2018 [13 favorites]


I mean it's not like you "just" die a little earlier, you know. The health conditions that are caused by chronic occupational exposure to toxins tend to be lingering and degenerative. I mean, read the article; this woman's quality of life has been drastically reduced. Permanently. She'll probably also die early, but she'll be sick for the rest of her life.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 8:55 AM on December 1, 2018 [10 favorites]


bonobo: you can jury rig an air filter just by taking a room fan, placing it so the fan is horizontal and pushing air downwards & sticking a air conditioning filter on top of it. Or tape a filter on the intake side of a box fan.

Please do something like this - it'll make a huge difference to the number of particulates in the air you're breathing even if you're not willing to put in full room ventilation and wear a mask (which you totally should do, but I can understand why people don't).
posted by pharm at 8:56 AM on December 1, 2018 [6 favorites]


As someone who is now mildly allergic to wood dust and sensitized to formaldehyde from woodworking, construction etc. please use a hepa respirator, get the kind with replaceable filters made by a real company like 3M or North, not some Harbor Freight crap. They don't cost much, they are light weight and you get used to it. A more deluxe system is a papr (powered air purifying respirator) which is very nice as it provides eye protection and a nice gentle cooling breeze on your face while providing clean air. As for box fans and furnace filters I need to point out that the dust that gets you is very very fine and is akin to soot. The reason it is dangerous is that your lung's natural expectorating (not sure if that is the correct word) mechanism cannot remove these size particles. If you run a box fan exhausting out the window continuously that can help but using a furnace filter to recirculate the air in a confined space does nothing.
posted by Pembquist at 9:07 AM on December 1, 2018 [8 favorites]


The people who've done what I suggested used HEPA filters from air conditioners IIRC. Was it as good as doing it properly? God no. Was it a lot better than doing nothing? Hugely so.
posted by pharm at 9:23 AM on December 1, 2018 [2 favorites]


Yeah, a recirculating filter isn't going to do much. Dust collectors that grab the dust as it comes out of your tools are good, but not really applicable to hand tools. An exhaust system (a shop vac doesn't count, it doesn't move enough air) is also helpful, but none of that stuff is a replacement for just wearing a damn mask. PAPRs are sweet but they start at like $1,000. The best mask is the mask you actually wear. If a disposable N95 is what you're willing to actually put on your face, wear that. They're cheap and easy and comfortable. Get yourself a box and just wear one when you work.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 9:24 AM on December 1, 2018 [3 favorites]


Monona Rossol has been harping on this since forever (or as long as I've been working in the arts, anyways); she's a bit of a nut but a good resource and of course she's 100% right. Wear a damn mask!
posted by Admiral Viceroy at 9:51 AM on December 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


The mood of her work is 'passing dark -- which comes with poisoning yourself, undoubtedly.

But it goes beyond that: the decaying and agonized forms of Lilith and Adam, for example, are like reflections of what's happening to the artist herself in an obsidian mirror.
posted by jamjam at 9:52 AM on December 1, 2018 [3 favorites]


I will try the box fan filter. One thing that I think reduces my woodworking risk to acceptable levels is that I don’t have power tools and hardly ever do any sanding. I build stuff with actual wood (not ply or MDF). I stick things together with hot hide glue, then finish with shellac and linseed oil. I use a hand saw, chisels and plane the surfaces. It's all very old timey.
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:05 AM on December 1, 2018


I'm shocked that this is the only evidence of her online. Her work is so beautiful to be virtually unknown. If nothing else, I hope this changes. For such a tragedy and travesty, and for the absolute labor, exquisiteness, and sacrifice of the work, this should be remembered.
posted by es_de_bah at 10:09 AM on December 1, 2018 [5 favorites]


"But I believed I was dying, and I wanted to finish the sculpture of Adam before I was gone. I had no idea he was the thing that was killing me."

Anyone can make me cry with any sentimental crap, because I am a sap. For this reason, I look contemptuously on unworthy, cheap extortions of emotion. This is worthy, and quite expensive for her.

I think what makes it work is that some substantial response of her response to being poisoned by industrial waste in mussel shells is "Oh, the poor poisoned mussels!" I would not be like her for any price, but am very glad she exists.
posted by ckridge at 10:21 AM on December 1, 2018 [2 favorites]


Pharm I don't mean to be argumentative but I disagree with the conclusion that a box fan with a filter recirculating in a confined space is hugely better than nothing. It might be worse than nothing as it would provide an illusion that it was doing something meaningful when it is not.

bonobothegreat power tools are the real problem so if you are just using hand tools you probably don't have to worry except for the sanding and if you use exotics. You can cobble together a pretty effective sanding table/hood exhausting to the outside for not too much money.

I prefer a cartridge type respirator to the paper kind as the paper ones smell weird to me. Also unless I get the paper kind with a valve I find I steam up my glasses.

PAPR are expensive for real ones, mine is a 3M Airmate no longer made and cost about 500. A lot of the cost I assume is paperwork related. Looking briefly they do cost about 1000 now.

Here is a link to somebody that went down an amateur rabbit hole on dust collection: http://billpentz.com/woodworking/cyclone/index.cfm#index.cfm
posted by Pembquist at 10:33 AM on December 1, 2018 [3 favorites]


Guess I better stop using my tongue as a stylus on my Wacom tablet.
posted by Young Kullervo at 10:39 AM on December 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


And yes, I feel like some doctor should have said, "Hey, you have symptoms of heavy metal poisoning, let's check your blood."

[side rant warning]

This is because she's a Toronto-based artist, and Toronto family doctors are insanely unlikely to order blood tests in my experience, which includes my older son nearly dying of appendicitis where a simple blood test would have shown elevated white blood cells. I don't understand why they won't and I have sought out different doctors for myself and my kids (pediatrician) with that as a question going in, and in the case of my own doctor, she's foreign-trained and I feel like that's why she's not so down on the blood tests.

I don't know if this is a micro-cultural thing around family doctor training, or if this has been or was incentivized through some kind of billing practice where you get a bonus for staying below a threshold, and I'm not sure it's a Canadian or even an Ontario thing (and shouldn't be, because you can save a lot of money for the collective catching things early), but it's a very annoying thing. One reason I think it might be local to Toronto is that if you don't do a blood test and miss something big, we have really great specialists and hospitals and so the family doctor never ends up managing the mistake personally, like my son's life was saved at Sick Kids and they managed his appendicitis so well that by the time our family doctor saw him again it was just a bad episode.

Anyway yes, stupid stupid stupid.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:49 AM on December 1, 2018 [4 favorites]


I've been involved in various art things as a student and amateur for the last twenty years. I have met a number of older artists--mostly glass blowers and potters--that have varying degrees of damage from a ignoring health issues related to their art--frequently because the issues just weren't known when they started. Nowadays instructors are good about warning students about the dangers of dust and poison and so forth, but that thing about young folks feeling they're indestructible seems to be kind of true.

Hopefully a bunch of folks will read this lady's story and realize the need to care for themselves. And, hopefully she will get better.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 11:08 AM on December 1, 2018


I live in a beautiful city, where people take great pride in their tiny front yards--heavily landscaped rather than grass. The favorite look is gorgeous rosebushes around Virgin-on-the-Half-Shell statues, but other flowers feature too. Or carpets of moss and miniature Japanese maples. Mature trees arch above us, dropping heavy crops of apples and pears onto our sidewalks.

You can't eat that fruit though. The soil is so poisoned with heavy metals that it comes out in anything you grow. If you grow vegetables in your yard, you have to buy dirt from Maine and put an impermeable layer on the bottom of a raised bed.

Our new bike path had a battle between guerilla gardeners and city officials. The officials kept destroying the food crops planted by the well-meaning gardeners. How mean! No. There was so much arsenic in the soil the crops were unsafe to eat. In a city full of new hipsters who want to grow their own food, and old Portuguese and Italians who keep pruning their rosebushes, and letting their tomato plants entwine around their fences.
posted by Hypatia at 11:11 AM on December 1, 2018 [11 favorites]


I mean it's not like you "just" die a little earlier, you know. The health conditions that are caused by chronic occupational exposure to toxins tend to be lingering and degenerative. I mean, read the article; this woman's quality of life has been drastically reduced. Permanently. She'll probably also die early, but she'll be sick for the rest of her life.

THIS. My father was a theatrical carpenter, as was my grandfather ("Poppy," as I called him.) Poppy smoked Luckys almost all his life, so one could explain away his emphysema perhaps with that. Either way, he couldn't walk down the block without stopping at every house for a few minutes to catch his breath.

My father is currently in his last years, and is firmly of the generation who never, ever wore safety gear of any kind. He was cutting not only wood, but also MDF, plexiglas, masonite and really you name it every single day. There was a mostly unventilated paint loft in there as well, and they were always spraying fireproofing around. I think he thought he would just up and die one day too, he wasn't at all prepared for emphysema, the constant treatments to open up his lungs for an hour, his inability to speak on the phone for more than a few minutes.

I work in entertainment too, and I think of them both very often when I'm around fabrication and open construction. The thought of them spending their last years gasping for air definitely forces me to wear safety gear because nah fuck that.
posted by nevercalm at 11:15 AM on December 1, 2018 [7 favorites]


I really don't give the planet more than a few hundred years more at the present rate of usage/abusage.

We may not survive; the planet will eventually heal and move on.
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:42 AM on December 1, 2018 [5 favorites]


Our new bike path had a battle between guerilla gardeners and city officials. The officials kept destroying the food crops planted by the well-meaning gardeners. How mean! No. There was so much arsenic in the soil the crops were unsafe to eat. In a city full of new hipsters who want to grow their own food, and old Portuguese and Italians who keep pruning their rosebushes, and letting their tomato plants entwine around their fences.

Almost all cities in North America have lead contaminated topsoil thanks to the years of leaded gasoline use. If you are going to urban garden you need managed beds that are isolated from the ground soil.
posted by srboisvert at 11:47 AM on December 1, 2018 [4 favorites]


I find her work to be somewhat viscerally disturbing and while it feels somewhat ghoulish to admit, I wish that there were dated images of the works in progress so we could see if her vision for it changed as the poisoning grew worse.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:15 PM on December 1, 2018 [7 favorites]


And now I wonder about eating mussels and other shellfish ...

She was grinding up, inhaling, and getting covered with powdered shells for 12 hours a day and years at a time. How often are you eating mussels?

I'd worry more about mercury in tuna if you're a seafood person.

As to her doctors... without a more detailed explanation of what happened I find it hard to fault them too much. My understanding is that diagnosing heavy metal poisoning without a known exposure is pretty difficult. And she told the doctors that there was no way because she worked with natural materials. Natural. Like, I dunno, cyanide. Or natural mercury. Stuff that can't hurt you.
posted by Justinian at 1:37 PM on December 1, 2018 [2 favorites]


For those who don't think in puns and allusions:

"Adam" is from the Hebrew "adamah," which means earth.

"And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul."

That is no doubt one reason why she made her Adam of materials intermediate between stone and flesh. So, Adam is of earth but has poisoned the earth, and so is poisonous.

And yet he is beautiful.
posted by ckridge at 1:39 PM on December 1, 2018 [6 favorites]


The funny thing was, in art school we knew the stuff we were using was toxic. It was like smoking. Life didn't actually continue after youth, so what we did didn't matter. We bought into the statistical idea of shorter life span without realizing what that statistic implied in terms of chronic conditions.

One of the shocking things I began to understand as I grew older was that those old people who are hobbling around using canes are (a) the same as me despite the wrinkles (b) often in actual pain, not just picturesque (c) deserving of a reasonably healthy old age, because oddly enough, they don't want to just go die once they get old. Food still tastes good. Books are interesting. Political activism is still an option. Writing, making art, and other creative activities are not just hobbies if they weren't before.
posted by Peach at 1:50 PM on December 1, 2018 [8 favorites]


Almost all cities in North America have lead contaminated topsoil thanks to the years of leaded gasoline use. If you are going to urban garden you need managed beds that are isolated from the ground soil.

My neighbor has his office in a building that was a gas station for most of the 20th century. In the nineteenth century, the site was the location of the "Pioneer Paint Works" factory. He's not allowed to did down more than a foot and has the whole lot other than the building itself planted with flowers.
posted by octothorpe at 1:53 PM on December 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


Natural. Like, I dunno, cyanide.

I posed this to my dad (an ER doc) as a medical mystery, and when I said, "She says she only works with natural materials," his immediate reply was, "That means nothing, cyanide is natural."
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 2:12 PM on December 1, 2018 [10 favorites]


What has happened to this artist is horrifying, but even more horrifying is now she knows what's causing her illness and she's still doing it. And no, I don't think it's a romantic sacrifice to die for your art, no matter how beautiful.
posted by Jubey at 4:06 PM on December 1, 2018 [2 favorites]


On my CNC wood router I've a pre-filter then Dyson vacuum cleaner with HEPA filter for the machine. That's collects most but not all dust. I still wear a dust mask around it but this has motivated me to upgrade to a proper half-face respirator.

And a big box of spare filters for the mask, coz they don't do shit if you don't change them at least every month.
posted by happyinmotion at 5:26 PM on December 1, 2018 [2 favorites]


As someone who is now mildly allergic to wood dust and sensitized to formaldehyde from woodworking, construction etc. please use a hepa respirator.

Same! I grew up in a house full of plywood sawdust, along with later exposure while doing set construction in high school, and it's almost certainly why I developed allergies to formaldehyde resin and PTBP resin.

Then I developed an allergy to benzalkonium chloride (a.k.a. the active ingredient in stuff like Clorox wipes) after years of using them all over the house as a primary disinfecting method, including some heavy exposure cleaning all the surfaces of two apartments during move-outs over the years. As it turns out, formaldehyde-releasing products and benzalkonium chloride are in a whole lot of personal products and cleaning products.

As the daughter of two artists, I grew up with materials safety as an important part of my upbringing—a lot of pottery glaze materials are toxic, so I learned about that, at least, early on, and the dangers of treated lumber were also a topic of discussion at home. But man, shells. The important thing to realize is that even if the thing you're grinding isn't necessarily full of heavy metals, getting the dust all over still might not be a good idea, because sensitization is real.
posted by limeonaire at 9:12 PM on December 1, 2018 [2 favorites]


I've been working wood with hand tools and my dust collection system is a broom and dustpan.

Please, please try to find a mask that you can stand to work with.

My husband does wood and soft stone carving, both by hand and with power tools. He doesn't use a mask, but a lot of his work is in water; he does a lot of the shaping on a jeweler's sanding wet wheel, and a lot of the final sanding is done with wet sandpaper. He has lung problems, but it's impossible to tell if it's from the carving or the 50+ years of smoking.

The damage by wood dust can vary drastically based on the type of wood. Think of it this way: If the wood manages to survive the Amazonian rain forest, that means it's filled with biochemicals that are noxious to Amazonian rain forest bugs. Those are not chemicals you want in your lungs.

My husband has also seen a lot of blown glass artists die young; all the pretty swirly colors are heavy metals, and they're inhaling them. Husband makes pipes out of wood, including exotics, where he does most of the heavy dust work underwater, and stone bowls out of non-reactive types of stone, so the only danger is the physical shape of the dust, not its composition. Dust in the lungs is not good for you, but malachite dust is a ticket to early death. He doesn't make pipes out of malachite, and he warns the people who do.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 1:44 AM on December 2, 2018 [2 favorites]


I really don't give the planet more than a few hundred years more at the present rate of usage/abusage.
We may not survive; the planet will eventually heal and move on.
Indeed.

If this story had been about an artist named Earth, humans would be playing the role of the heavy metals poisoning her.
posted by fairmettle at 2:53 AM on December 2, 2018 [1 favorite]


Anybody else remember using their teeth as a child to crimp the lead split-shot weights onto fishing line? :/
posted by Afghan Stan at 9:13 AM on December 2, 2018 [3 favorites]


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