by Wendy Haskell Meyer
If you're a sculptor, potter,
jeweller, photographer, or painter, if you work with dyes, duplicating fluid, furniture stripper
or solvents, if you're etching,
soldering, welding, printing,
grinding, polishing, glazing or
pasting up copy, this message of
caution is for you.
The American Lung Association has recently issued a warning that professional, amateur
and student artists are often unknowingly exposed to toxic
substances in their work.
Artists, unlike workers in industry whose use of hazardous
materials is regulated by the
Occupational Safety and Health
Act of 1970, frequently work in
unventilated areas with materials
which may be dangerous and
whose content may not even
Women, working at home
more often than men, may thus
inhale, ingest or absorb through
their skin noxious gases, fumes,
chemicals, dusts and abrasives.
They may also be setting themselves up for fire.
If you spend extended periods of time in art-related projects, you may wish to send
$2.24 to Hazards in the Arts, a
non-profit information exchange
group, at 5340 North Magnolia,
Chicago, Illinois 60640, for a
detailed pamphlet called Health
Hazards in the Arts and Crafts
by Bertram W. Carnow, M.D.,
professor of occupational and
environmental medicine, at the
University of Illinois School of
Dr. Carnow not only discusses risks in detail but provides a
19-page list of specific materials—metals, compounds, oxides,
acids, dusts, gases and solvents—
and descirbes in which arts and
crafts they are often used, what
organs of the body may be
affected and what diseases they
Here are some tips we picked
up from Dr. Carnow and from
Whether or not a particular
toxic substance causes damage
sooner or later (the incubation
period, by the way, may be as
much as 30 years) depends on
individual sensitivity—some people are hyperreactors—age,
(children are particularly at
risk), how much of that material
has already accummulated in the
body and what other insults to
the target organs—lungs, skin,
mouth, liver—may already have
occurred. That means, for example, if you smoke and/or
live in polluted air, your lungs
may experience an additional
burden from inhaling lead
fumes, paint pigments, and photographic acids and chemicals.
Some materials are so dangerous they simply should not be in
any artist's studio, says Carnow,
putting in this category: asbestos, benzene or benzol (a general solvent for resins and rubber
cement), carbon tetrachloride
(a general solvent), and methyl
butyl keton (lacquer and polyester resin solvent).
Most of these are highly toxic
to the liver and nervous system.
They are often found in various
varnishes and lacquers also.
Unfortunately, one can't always tell by looking at the can
exactly which material is there—
the label often says only "contains petroleum distillates." If
you're in doubt, work in a well
ventilated room and wear long
sleeves and gloves.
Some metals (lead, cadmium,
mercury, nickel, chromium, vanadium and arsenic) in the dry
state—sometimes found in pigments used by artists—may not
only be more or less immediately toxic but in addition, may
Aerosols, says Carnow, are
particularly hazardous because
particles so tiny, less than one
millionth of an inch in diameter,
may migrate to the lowest portions of the lung and cross into
Most solvents, even those
considered safe, such as acetone
and turpentine, are highly flammable. A Houston artist recently experienced two frightening
fires within a few days. The first
time a drop of rubber cement
hit a nearby votive candle, flamed and then caught the brush in
her hand on fire. Later on, in
trying to clean up the congealed
bits of burned cement from the
kitchen floor, using a sponge and
rubber cement solvent, (fortunately she had replaced the cover
on the lid of the solvent can) an
explosion occurred when the
fumes from the floor reached
the pilot of a nearby stove.
Here are the precautions you
should be taking in your studio/
1. Know exactly what your
2. If toxic, use liquid rather
than aerosol, solid rather than
3. Store materials in sealed
containers (watch out for brushes soaking in solvents).
4. Wash your hands after using
toxic materials. If possible,
wear gloves. Keep finger nails
short and clean, especially if
using lead, calcium, mercury or
5. Don't smoke near your
work. Don't use solvents in the
same room with a gas pilot.
6. Don't eat in the room
where you work.
7. Keep the room ventilated,
cool and humid. This is especially important for photographers using caustic acids.
8. Use goggles when grinding,
sanding or welding and masks
when working with powders,
dusts, aerosols and fumes.
Olga Soliz & Associates
Management & Planning Consultants
HOUSTON, TEXAS 7 7005
NANCY KERN, LINDA BOWEN and GLENNA CLOUD
Health collective formed
Are you alarmed about the
state of the air you breathe and
the food you eat? Are you angry about being used unknowingly as a guinea pig when you
so blithely took birth control
pills back in 1964-1972? Are
you tired of having to take almost an entire day off from
work whenever you need to see
a doctor for five minutes? The
Houston Women's Health Collective, now forming, is about all of
the above and more.
They want to see good alternatives develop for pregnant
women, from unalienating abortions to happy home deliveries.
They want doctors to recognize that women's time is valuable, and cannot be spent
waiting hours for treatment;
that women will question phys-
cians because we want to know
about our own bodies; and that
the rational judgment of women
should be trusted to make our
They want local daily newspapers to devote more space and
energy to keeping women more
informed about the latest suspected carcinogens than about
the latest Paris fashions.
The Houston Women's Health
Collective is just forming and
plans to take on all of the above.
It is organizing an information center and referral service.
It will include information on
local doctors and other resources, a lending library, and a
In addition, some members
are teaching women's health
self-help classes. The topics
covered in the self-help classes
include the menstrual cycle,
vaginal health and diseases,
birth control, breast and cervical
cancer, and patient rights.
Classes are held almost continuously, with the next scheduled class beginning June 21,
through UH Sundry School
(Registration June 3-10).
Their objectives include the
*to be a focal point for Houston women interested in the
issues and problems of health,
*to research and spread information about women's health,
*to practice self-evaluation
and be open to change,
*to function collectively and
supportively as a group, and to
stay small and community-oriented and to encourage the formation of other similar groups.
The philosophy of the Houston Women's Health Collective
is as follows:
"We believe that every person
has the right to good health.
This right implies certain other
rights including the right to a
healthful environment, the right
to good health care and the right
to complete and prompt health
"We as human beings must
be able to make decisions affecting our bodies and our lives;
we must be free of economic
fears and other pressures so that
our decisions can be truly our
own; and we must have the
power to implement our decisions.
"Our focus is women's health
because we are women. We
know the problems intimately
and feel the need for change
"Women are the major consumers of the current health
care system. Women are also a
majority of health care workers.
We want to work with and support any health care workers
whose priority is health rather
than power or profit or maintaining the present health care
system. It is time for that system to stop victimizing us and
to begin working with us and for
If you want to join, help, get
or give more information or participate in a self-help class, call
913 RICHMOND AVE.
FIRST LADY I
HOOVER & EUREKA
Sales and Service
DEBRA & DON ALLEN
6605 Kirby Drive
Houston, Texas 77005
HOUSTON'S NEW SHOP
1230 Jackson Blvd.
Houston, Texas 77006
Tues. - Sun.