Alaskan Artist - Elise Tomlinson
Home Artist Blog About Me Life in Alaska Purchase Site Index Speak
Home » Archives » August 2005 » Going Non-toxic (and terrified)

[Previous entry: "Personal blogs change the way we communicate"] [Next entry: "Community Supported Agriculture"]

08/17/2005: "Going Non-toxic (and terrified)"

Well, I decided to start shopping for an air purification system and I remembered something Jackie had posted in here once about getting one that filtered VOCs. I couldn’t remember what “VOC” stood for so I looked it up…from the epa website: Sources of Indoor Air Pollution - Organic Gases (Volatile Organic Compounds - VOCs)

Household products including: paints, paint strippers, and other solvents; wood preservatives; aerosol sprays; cleansers and disinfectants; moth repellents and air fresheners; stored fuels and automotive products; hobby supplies; dry-cleaned clothing.

Health Effects: Eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches, loss of coordination, nausea; damage to liver, kidney, and central nervous system. Some organics can cause cancer in animals; some are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans.
I've had just about every one of those "health effects" not to mention the recurring kidney infections that follow each of my openings and have been getting steadily worse. The thing is, I'm *very* dependant on my chemicals. I use Liquin and matt and high gloss varnish, turpentine, and various other painting mediums. I've tried in the past to use walnut oil alkyd to speed drying etc. but how do you thin the paint without turpentine or liquin? How do you do glazing? Adding lots of oil makes the mixture feel too viscous. I guess I'll have to research this because the urgent care physician said I could die from a kidney infection or be on dialysis for the rest of my life and really scared the jeebus out of me. I mean, I know I'm supposed to suffer for my art but I thought they meant metaphorically speaking!

Is there anyone else out there using oils with a completely non-toxic studio?

Replies: 11 Comments

on Thursday, August 18th, Kasia said

Hi, Elise! I just opened my blog! Just as you suggested! oh, I already feel it will be very interesting! Visit me at:

on Thursday, August 18th, Howard said

I remember reading an article once about artist who had to make major changes in the way they worked because of problems with materials. It was awhile ago and I don't remember much from it. It suggested things like switching to acyrlics or working outside which are not options for everyone. It's tough though and except from wearing a rubber suit there's not a lot of options.

I think your biggest problem is with living in your workspace. I know you don't have a lot of options there so focusing on ventilaton seems to be the best bet.

on Thursday, August 18th,">Jackie said

E: Well - I don't have a toxic-free workspace, since I use oil-based stains that I mix myself, thinned with turpentine and Tung oil for hardening the wood. But I do work in my garage, and I ventilate by opening the garage door. I also seal rags/newspapers in old coffee cans 1/2 full of water - for fire safety as well as keeping the fumes down. And I don't leave the lid off the jar of turp for rinsing my brushes. If you can't move your workspace out of your living space, or segregate it, then you're best to go with an air filter/ventilate system that can suck the fumes out of your house.
Ever wonder why people who work in paint stores mixing paint all day are a bit off (or guys who work in the press-room printing newspapers)?
There are hazards in many other art materials - glazes for ceramics, soldering, even plaster of Paris.

Good luck - and good health!

on Thursday, August 18th, Elise said

Hi Kasia, I read (and commented) in your new blog, very interesting so far! I think having a blog is so much fun though I can't imagine doing it in another language though it's an interesting idea, maybe I'll start one in Spanish!

Howard, you're right that I can't seperate my living space from my work space. I (like you) just can't afford that much space!

And I'm not at all good in acrylics...though I haven't tried that hard. I do have a lot of acrylic paint on hand, I suppose I could give it another try.

And Jackie, I'm afraid I don't even have a garage so that won't work for me either.

I did find this related blog entry called "Artists Beware"

though she is trying to market a particular brand. I found a different blog that is doing reviews of different air purificaiton systems as well and found what seems to be the perfect air purifier for me (and other artists in my situation) called the AirSoPure S-980 reviewed at:

There's another one he reviewed that uses similar technology called Vision Air Purifiers...

At this point it will come down to which one I can afford.

on Thursday, August 18th, holly said

Holy crap! That is terrifying! When I was a teenager, we moved into a newly built house that ended up being toxic: the carpets, the treated wood, the ceiling material were all off-gassing and we all got quite sick in different ways. We finally sold the place and moved.

I hope an air purifyer will do the trick for you- it sounds like you absolutely need one. And consider that even the most expensive air purifyer is cheaper than dialysis. Good luck with this!

on Thursday, August 18th, Elise said

I think I'm going to get the airsopure brand, even though it's 700 bucks and needs a yearly filter replacement at another hundred bucks. I'm going to recommend to all my family members to get them as well...just seems like a good idea.

on Monday, August 22nd, cat dailey said

i am an oil portrait artist in colorado having similar problems with solvents. i started using the more natural thinners (eco-house, bioshield, turpenoid natural, etc.) years ago after i ran into big trouble with regular turpentine. my studio is in my house and if the weather is good, i open all the windows and use fans to suck out the fumes.
i still have trouble if i paint for long periods.
i found your blog when searching the net for air purification ideas. i gotta' do something soon, winter is coming and i can't keep the doors wide open then. i had heard about the Ecoquest machines that supposedly take VOCs out of the air? i am dialoging right now with their tech support to find out exactly what chemicals they will take out and what the filter situation is. i'm curious if you checked into them as well? sounds like they are in the same price range.
glad to have found your blog...

on Monday, August 22nd, Elise said

Hi Cat, I did look into Ecoquest (which used to be Alpine) and though there were some positive reviews, I found this negative one that really sealed the deal for me to *not* go this route.

The airsopure model will produce small amounts of ozone, but activating that portion of the purifier is *optional*. Airsopure uses 5 seperate process to eliminate different kinds of pollutants, 2 that are geared towards VOCs (the carbon filter and the UV light which breaks down the molecules at the DNA level making them inert and harmless)...

I would strongly recommend *not* going with the Ecoquest model, for another thing they are a multilevel marketing some of the rave reviews could be from dealers or people trying to drum up more business.

One last thing, the guy from blogmyair (an blog on air quality) trys out different systems and then writes reviews about them (and he doesn't sell them or anything) and I wrote him and asked him which one he thought would be the best for an artist in my situation (same situation as yours) and he said that the airsopure one would be perfect for me.

So, I'm going to look into purchasing one, some places won't ship to Alaska but hopefully I'll find one that will. I'll keep ya posted on how I like mine...

thanks for writing and good luck!

on Wednesday, August 24th, cat dailey said

yikes! thanks for the info! weird, but i've been in email dialog with ecoquest tech support today. they wanted an exact list of the chemicals, which i had given them along with the square footage of my studio. they keep using the words "adverse effects of ozone" (scary) on my paintings (and from what it sounds like, to me), but so far, seem to be ignoring my request to clarify exactly what they mean by "adverse effects".

i will look further into airsopure... i need to do something soon - the fumes are really bothering me. i ordered a book called "Artist's Complete Guide to Health & Safety 3rd Ed." by M. Rossol. you can find a review and table of contents at
seems like that's a good thing to have on hand.

thanks again for the heads up! :)

on Wednesday, August 24th, Elise said

Yes Cat, Ozone can aggrevate people with certain allergies and other conditions, plus it's bad for the environment.

I had that Artist's Guide to Health and Saftey and it scared me half to dealth. Printmaking, which I did for years and years, was listed as *the* most toxic of all art forms. great!

But it's better to start sooner than later (or never).

on Thursday, September 29th, EcoQuest International said

Low levels of ozone are one of the best things you can do to clean your air. Have you ever smelled the fresh scent after a thunderstorm? That's ozone!