Artists At Risk

I thought I would share an article Artists At Risk that my daughter sent me.

It’s about health problems associated with exposure to chemicals in various artist materials.

Personally I certainly have used a variety of woodwork, photography, artist and scale modeling supplies over the last 50 years. I’m usually (but not always) pretty careful and I do read labels, I’ve also always used acrylic rather than oil based paints over the years …but I have, and still, suffer from ‘doctor unsolved’ skin rashes, itching, and burning as well as swollen joints sometimes.

Artists At Risk
Written by: Kim Sterling
(Article posted in: Enlighten Your Load )

Artists are particularly vulnerable to illnesses caused by the toxic substances contained in the mediums art-supplies they work with. Rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, leukemia and bladder cancers are all too often the result of working long hours with highly toxic materials without the protective gear other industries would provide its workers. The artist often works alone, focused on their work, oblivious of the danger he or she is operating under.

Artists are at particular risk of developing health problems associated with exposure to chemicals for several reasons:

Artists frequently get little or no training in the hazards of their materials and processes. As a result, artists are often unaware that the materials they use contain toxic ingredients, including those that are not permitted in other types of consumer products. For instance, lead has been banned from wall paint but is still used in artist paints and inks.

* Artists often do not take precautions to protect themselves from the hazards associated with the materials they use, and in many cases they cannot afford expensive safety equipment. While a chemist using exactly the same substances would protect themselves with goggles, gloves, fume hoods and other safety equipment, artists will often not only fail to take these precautions, but also partake in activities that actually increase their exposure to harmful substances, e.g., eating and drinking in the studio or holding their brush in their mouths.

* Artists often have much longer and more frequent exposure to harmful chemicals than the average person because they frequently work with hazardous materials, often for extended hours.


* Artists often work and live in the same place, and the toxic substances used in the studio can spread throughout the home leading to constant exposure from which the body does not get a break.

The medium the artist works most with will determine the level of chemical exposure and the potential for risk:

Oil, acrylic and watercolour paints, markers, pens, varnishes, inks contain solvents that may contain chemicals such as toluene and xylene which may irritate the skin, eyes and respiratory system, and damage the nervous system, liver and kidneys. Turpentine causes allergies to itself.

Pigments in paints may also contain heavy metals, PCBs or dioxins which are linked to cancer, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s.

Dyes used to for fabric, batik, & silk-screening may cause allergic reactions, asthma, cancer, and dermatitis.

Ceramic glazes used on pottery – some glazes contain lead, cadmium, chromium, nickel and other heavy metals which are highly toxic.

Resins and Acids vary from moderately toxic to highly toxic respiratory agents.

Alkalis used in cleaning solutions, paint removers, dye baths, ceramic glazes and photographic developing baths can be highly corrosive to the skin and eyes. Ingestion can cause severe damage to the digestive system. Inhalation may cause chemical pneumonia.

Sprays used in spray painting, air brushing, retouching photos, fixing drawings, application of glazes, enamels and adhesives may irritate the skin, eyes and respiratory system, and damage the nervous system, liver and kidneys. Sprays are particularly hazardous because solvent mist droplets can be inhaled deeply into the lungs.

Photo chemicals used in photography can cause skin diseases, respiratory diseases, allergic diseases, acute anaemia and reproductive system damage.

Preventatively, artists need to be aware of their exposure, use water-based supplies as often as possible, ensure their studio is well ventilated, and protect their skin from exposure. Specialized internal cleansing regimens will reinforce the immune system to purge active agents from the body and regular use of far-infrared saunas for durations of 60 minutes or longer will pull the stored chemicals and heavy metals out of their largest organ and chemical storage warehouse – the skin.

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