East Texas Woodturners' Association

Safety Alert

Updated Jul16, 2004

The following is a reprint (with permission) of a letter to the editor of the Workshop News magazine published in the August 2004 edition. The author of the letter, Kerry Pierce, is a well know author of several woodworking related books – The Wood Stash Project Book, Authentic Shaker Furniture, Making Shaker Woodenware, The Art of Chair-Making, the Custom Furniture Sourcebook, Practical Projects from Fine Woods, The Used Lumber Project Book, The Woodworker’s Visual Guide to Pricing Your Work, Small-Production Woodworking for the Home Shop, and Making Elegant Gifts from Wood.
 Please read and take to heart,
Mike DeLong
Cancer, mineral spirits
In October of 2003, I was diagnosed with Stage 4, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and given a 20-percent chance of sur­vival. I was only 53 and in what I thought was reasonably good health. Twenty years earlier, I'd given up smoking, and ever since, I'd made a reason­able effort to live a healthy lifestyle, one that included daily exercise and a nutri­tious diet. Nevertheless, there I was last October, along with my wife and daughter, in the office of the man who would later become my Primary oncologist, receiving a diagnosis that was un­comfortably close to a death sentence.
Several times during the four months of chemotherapy that followed, I asked my oncologist about the specific kinds of things in my life which might have contributed to my cancer. At first, he was reluctant to discuss this -- he wanted me focused only on my recov­ery, not on regrets -- but I persisted, and eventually he explained that a number of studies have linked lymphoma and the solvents used by furni­ture makers -- a linkage I later con­firmed with a little research.
In my case, solvent use means mineral spirits, since it is the only one I use regularly in my shop.
Years ago, when I was still applying spray finishes, I was scrupulous about wearing a respirator whenever I worked with mineral spirits, but in the late '80s, when I made the switch from sprayed finishes to brush-on, wipe-off finishes, I dropped the respirator from my finishing regimen because I thought that the absence of airborne droplets eliminated the risk. Plus, I enjoy the finishing process, and wearing a respirator diminishes the plea­sure I take in this activity. I also thought that a product like mineral spirits -- which is in such widespread use -- even among those who are not woodworking professionals or hobbyists, couldn't be really dangerous, de­spite the warnings on the cans.
I was foolish.
Breathing the unfiltered, fumes of mineral spirits no doubt contributed to my lymphoma, but I believe the most dangerous element in my finishing regi­men was my failure to wear gloves. This meant that at the conclusion of every finishing session -- often a daily event in my shop -- I would wash fin­ish from my hands with mineral spirits, thereby absorbing the toxins through my skin.
The fault was my own. There were warnings on every can of mineral spirits I ever purchased, and I ignored them.
If you're working with solvents --and I would imagine this applies to al­most everyone reading this magazine -- please heed the warnings on the cans. Believe me: The dangers are very real.
Kerry Pierce
Lancaster, Ohio
Editor's note: Manufacturers warn that the use of mineral spirits will produce exposure to benzene, which is listed by the National Institute of Oc­cupational Safety and Health as a potential occupational carcinogen. NIOSH recommends the use of a respi­rator and skin protection when working with mineral spirits.


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