Sculptor diagnosed with heavy-metal poisoning after years of grinding mussel shells

Originally published at:


"The water where the mussels grew was likely contaminated from industrial waste, and the mussel shells I’d been working with for decades were toxic. "

So the damage wasn’t all natural.


Attention artists: find and befriend a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH). Consult them often.


Something about the way this story is presented is tingling my spidey-sense. I’m going to have to get into this.


Ventilator? Dust mask? Bandanna wrapped around your face? Anything??


Years ago I was influenced as an art student by some more senior artists, all of whom were working with high gloss sign enamel. I really got into painting with it but mostly worked outside which wasn’t perfect for the finish because it was hard to protect it. Around that time not one but two of these artists working with that paint (often indoors) developed non-hodgkin’s lymphoma and subsequently died. After that I stopped working with it, and later I pretty much left the art world behind for my own reasons. IME artists often don’t have anyone around inspecting things for safety and so a lot of precautions get skipped.


I hope she didn’t do much with pottery. Clay dust can cause lung cancer.

I don’t mean to make light of her ailment, but the headline immediately brought up this blast from the past.

I can’t believe I actually like this band in 6th grade.


I think the actual lesson is that we have no “nature” left to escape to that we haven’t radically contaminated.

I am reminded of one of my favorite sculptors, also killed by her medium.


Almost all bright primary colors (the ones people like) come from metal salts like Cadmium, Iron, Copper, Arsenic, Zinc, Lead, etc. but they tend to take months or years. Others, like (real) Prussian Blue, can kill you in an instant. Abalone shell powder contains nerve toxins.


Prussian blue AFAIK, isn’t really toxic… it’s used as an antidote for certain types of heavy metal poisoning. But perhaps by “real” you mean something else. I’m talking about ferric ferrocyanide.


Those muscle shells looked farmed, I could be wrong. Muscles grown onshore tend to have variations in shell thickness, and are less smoothe, regardless of species.

In order to avoid contamination from run off water, off our coast, one entrepreneur was farming them for a time. Otherwise, I think most of the local harvest of muscles comes from the offshore drilling rigs. Another key advantage is no or little sand. I see people ignoring red tide warnings all too often.

A friend of mine is an actor. She also has her PhD. in biology, and until recently did the red tide survey for our area. She found new species of plankton, and did so many other amazing things. She was also almost embarrassed about her work in science due to her humility, instead when asked about work she noted her acting, which she was very good at too . She is in her late 80’s now. She has given up teaching, she few out to N.Y. a few times a year to teach, and has given up doing plankton surveys. Her lab extend into another room, via a file drawer like pull out, where her microscopes, lights, etc, could be pulled out. I learned a lot about plankton from her. I also learned that once a woman hits a certain age, the rolls for women are about regrets, madness, insanity, and motherhood- likely all rolled into each other.

From heavy metal poisoning to rolls for older women in acting.

I cleaned out my ventilation system, which had trapped years of fine dust. As I swept out the particles, I suddenly felt weak and unable to stand.

I’m surprised to hear that exposure to heavy metals can have such an immediate, noticeable effect.


PSA: Come on, people! Wear your damn P99 respirator when working with hazardous dusts! Your healthy lungs are more or less irreplaceable.



I heard that Bob Ross’s lymphoma was attributed to paints.

sadly most artists are not taught to handle material safely and take the appropriate precautions. art stores and supply companies could do a better job with this information, and should be required to.


Well, sure they were. All toxins, even those produced by industry, are natural. They are all made of atoms and such. Heavy metals are part of nature (star stuff!). And the shells were natural, even if their heavy metals came from industry.


I know a reloader who got lead poisoning, and another who had elevated levels. If you’re around stuff like that, you need to take precautions.

While I guess I could see the issue of not knowing shells had heavy metals (although we know mercury is in the sea), the dust alone can’t be good. I can’t believe it took them 15 years, but glad it is figured out.

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Oh hey, it’s that song from A Clockwork Orange.

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There are many naturally occurring heavy metals in the environment that can find their ways into our system through completely natural means. Working with things that concentrate toxins does not help but industrialization has helped the risk of exposure. One of the most common sources of Arsenic in the diet is rice.