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October 20, 2005

learning about toxic fumes the hard way

by sven at 6:46 am

This has been a good week for exploring sculpture. But it has been a very bad week with regards to toxic fumes.

Being all inspired after the Portland Open Studios tour, Saturday night I went to the studio to experiment with some new techniques...

One idea was to bend a snippet of acrylic "glass" by heating it with a brulee torch. I figured this was likely to release fumes, so I did it outside, and tried to be careful not to breath anything in. The technique worked very well...

But 15 minutes later something odd happened. I had a shooting burning stitch in my armpit, almost as if a bee had stung me. I tried to disregard it at first, as one of those occasional mysterious body pains that can never be explained. But then I woke up in the middle of the night. I felt faint and a bit nauseous, and the stitch was back. For maybe half an hour it felt as if there was something seriously wrong with the artery -- touching or stretching it would cause shooting fiery pain. I was worried that this was a sign of a heart attack, or something similar, and enlisted Gretchin's help to look up the symptoms online. Fortunately, the symptoms didn't match up; and as they subsided, I decided to wait and watch for the time being.

Sunday afternoon the stitch showed up again, but less intensely. Now it seemed like it was perhaps a ligament, rather than an artery, that was the source of trouble. During the course of the day I noticed mild burning sensations slowly circulate through my body -- showing up in my right leg, then my right arm pit, and finally a little in my neck. My sense was that whatever toxins I'd breathed in were traveling outward from my heart, depositing in artery/ligament areas.

On the one hand, this was a big relief -- to now believe it wasn't my heart that was in trouble. On the other, it's pretty unnerving to think that these acrylic toxins are probably now deposited within me.

On Monday I may have felt a few very mild burning sensations -- but nothing since. Phew!

Ah, but the story doesn't end there... Monday night I built a shelf for displaying sculptures. I painted it with a glossy white latex house paint, outside and trying to be careful not to inhale the fumes. ...Nothing as serious as the acrylic incident happened -- but I did wake up in the middle of the night again, this time with the feeling that my skin was cold and slightly numb. Once again I had the feeling that I had chemicals inside my body.

To what extent was I really feeling these things -- versus imagining them, because I was worried and in a suggestive state? Hard to say. ...That's the thing about this body information: it's often indistinct -- and there's a considerable amount of self-doubt that goes along with trying to focus on it and identify its nature.

And so is that the end of the story? No! ...Last night (Wednesday) I was working in my studio room, trying out a bunch of ways of working with acrylic paints and gel medium. After two hours, I had a headache and was feeling sick. Again, the feeling of having chemicals inside my body.

It cleared up pretty easily... But I'm getting downright paranoid now about chemical fumes. Trying to be proactive, I purchased a book on Tuesday titled "The Artist's Complete Health and Safety Guide" and flipped though it. The emphasis, it appears, is on ventilation... Which, unfortunately, I think is going to be a fairly unwieldy problem in my art room.

...Looking back on 2005, this has been a pretty unhealthy year. I've been sick a lot more frequently than in past years -- and when I think about it, most of my colds followed on the heels of a big art project. To an extent, you can blame it on the stress -- I tend to be somewhat kamikaze. However, I'm increasingly convinced that one or two of those colds were the result of breathing in toxins -- wood dust from glue-based particle boards, in particular. This is, to say the least, a very disturbing revelation.

Not to mention ironic: I think probably most of the food we buy is organic. Granted, that has a lot to do with helping the environment, rather than health-minded reasons... Still, there's a comic contrast between what I seem to be willing to put into my mouth with a fork, versus what goes in via the studio.

posted by sven | October 20, 2005 6:46 AM | categories: sculpture