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Toxic-Free Artists

I recently started subscribing to Toxic Nation E-News from Environmental Defence (in Canada). It's also available online. This item in the October issue caught my eye and I thought I'd share it, in case any artists in Ontario may be reading this. I think many artists are now aware of some of the hazards of our occupation, but I believe we can always learn more on the subject. We really need these workshops across Canada!

TOXIC-FREE ARTISTS: CARFAC Ontario presents Staying Alive! - A Health & Safety Workshop for Visual and Media Artists

Coming to Ontario cities of Windsor and London on October 14th and 15th, and Timmins on November 25th.

About the Workshop: Artists often repeatedly use harmful chemicals and toxins, and continually place themselves in harm's way in order to create art and make a living. How often do we consider the consequences of repeated exposure to these potentially harmful chemicals and situations? These issues are addressed by:
• Ted Rickard, MLS, MEd, CRSP, Manager of Health and Safety at the Ontario College of Art and Design; and
• Dr. Jean-Jacques Dugoua (Dr. J.J.), BSc, ND., naturopathic doctor with the Artist's Health Centre.

The CARFAC Ontario Staying Alive! workshops are presented in partnership with the Artist’s Health Centre Foundation and Environmental Defence. For more information and to register please visit the CARFAC Ontario website.

Posted by Marja-Leena on October 12, 2006 8:26 PM


Indeed, chemicals used in art-work can be lethal and cause short and long-term problems for the artist. Acrylic-based paint is an excellent example. Often, the base componet called methyl-acrylic (methelmethacrylate or MMA)generally states a low VOC (volitile organic content)of zero to five percent. When BPO ( di-benzyl peroxide) is added to start the chemical reaction, although the manufacturer's claim it's not harmful - long-term scientific tests have described the potential risks as 'unknown.' So, having a background in chemical technology, I suggest that when in doubt - don't. Get the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) for any commercial off-the-shelf product, and/or follow the guidelines of the Workers Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) beforehand. Hazardous polymerization can occur with many chemicals when combined. Therefore, artists like yourself can be put in harms way and suffer the consequences of constant over-exposure to the TLV (threshold limit value)of any synthetic and/or organic components. I firmly believe that every artist deserves to be kept informed with accurate up-to-date information, and also be a bit wary of products that state non-toxic. It's in your best interest to work together and share your experiences with other artists. Keep the 'Poison Control Centre' phone number beside 911 - it might save your life. I sure don't want to hear that something awful happened to you - we need more people such as you who inspire us, and help shape our lives!

Roger, thanks greatly for your expert information! A lot of information has been coming available over the past decade or more but still there's much more we need to know, like you write about acrylic paints which were long spouted as safe. The solvents and thinners in the painting and printmaking studios are worrisome. The etching acids are very bad. At the studio where I work, which is part of a college, we have excellent fans and masks, but nevertheless I think we are exposed a certain degree, though it's regularly inspected to meet WHMIS standards. This is another reason I've not been doing etchings anymore, and instead using acid-free methods and working a lot digitally.

Last year when I started to see a naturopath for my health, I had one of the many standard tests done on new patients is for toxins in the body. Sure enough, I had stuff like heavy metals! Of course everyone gets toxins from our environment, our food, homes etc. but we do need to lessen our exposure and get detoxed. Did you see the last National Geographic where one of the writers had a complete and very expensive Norwegian test done to find just how much toxins were in his body? Very alarming! Worth a read!