Avoiding Holiday Hazards, Making Safe Workspaces for Artists

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A pair of Oakland fire officials walk past the remains of the Ghost Ship warehouse fire Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, in Oakland, Calif., where a fire killed 36 people during a party.

Monona Rossol, an industrial hygienist, safety officer and President of Arts, Crafts & Theater Safety, Inc., talks about the health hazards associated with holiday decorations and toys. She also discusses the deadly Oakland artist building fire, and how NYC artists can protect themselves and their studios. And we'll look at how legislation to regulate toxic chemicals might fare under Donald Trump's administration.

Have a question for Monona? Call us at 212-433-9692, or leave your questions in the comments below!

Update: Monona answered all of the questions left in our comments section. Check out her answers:

tom LI
As to artists spaces...one thing that must be done is keep out the hangers-on, who are claiming to be artists but are just living an itinerant, disenfranchised lifestyle. Its my experience in these "spaces" that far too many of those squatting, or otherwise occupying many of these spaces are not artists, nor likely to suddenly sprout artistic tendencies. Sifting thru trash, collecting debris, drinking too much, drugging when possible, etc...with the "intention" of making art is about all they do. We need to figure a way to weave some safe/secure, inexpensive artists spaces into urban zones, (but why not also non-urban zones?) but we need to also be careful not to let anyone self-labeling as artist to take advantage. Produce art, or get out! If your muse has left you, sorry...we cant subsidize that...go get a job and coax the muse back out...!

Dec 19, 2016, 3:30 PM

Dear Tom,  The City set standards of what constitutes a true artists entitled to loft spaces in the SoHo when that area was converting from light industrial to living areas.  It sort of worked.  But I have known real artists who also sift through trash, collect debris, drink too much, drug when possible and think that regulations are for everyone but themselves.  So the real issue comes down to enforcement of building codes and fire regulations evenly on all buildings where people work and/or live.

And it would be to the City's advantage to do as you suggest and devise ways to provide inexpensive and safe studio areas.  - Monona

FYI: http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/1307294/

Dec 19, 2016, 1:57 PM

Dear Eric F,  Bingo.  That's the major article on the LED retinal damage.   -  Monona

Leon from Manhattan
I have a halogen light fixture on the ceiling of my kitchen. The glass cover has been missing .I do not look into this fixture when the light is on. What is your opinion on halogen lights for this purpose? Should I replace it? Thank-you.

Dec 19, 2016, 1:54 PM

Dear Leon,  Yes, replace it.  The damage from these lights is not just to the retina and eye irritation.  The UV is associated with skin aging and skin cancer.   -  Monona 

Gregory from NYC
Hello Monona, You mentioned household LED's causing damage to the retina. I have a Phillips Hue lighting system in my apt. that has the ability to change the color of each bulb. It's set to a custom color to mimic a warm tungsten light bulb and dimmed, are they still a danger to my eyes. I can understand a standard LED causing damage, out of the box they are on a blue and ugly spectrum. Thanks, Gregory

Dec 19, 2016, 12:50 PM

Dear Gregory,  The only entity that can fully answer that question is the manufacturer of the system.  Ask them to provide the spectrum of wave lengths used to mimic the various types of light and look for the implicated white and blue frequencies.  Ericf above provided the link to the major article that will identify the frequencies to look for.  -  Monona

Sarah from Ditmas Park
I'm curious what further reading, beyond Pick Your Poison, Ms. Rossol would recommend for a parent trying to mitigate chemical exposure on their young children. Thank you!

Dec 19, 2016, 12:43 PM

Dear Sarah,   It is almost impossible to protect children from all of the environmental releases from plastics, new cars, air pollution, and the like.  So I think I'd concentrate on the things that are easier to control, such as household cleaners, toys, art and hobby materials, and other items to which the child may be intimately exposed.  Probably the most useful thing a parent could do would be to learn to read the new safety data sheets (SDS) at least the section 11 of these documents where what is known and not known about toxicity is supposed to be covered.  If you e-mail me separately, I'll send a very complex document of which you should only concentrate on the section 11 information.  And I will also help.  Anyone can attach an SDS to an e-mail to me and ask what I think.  -  Monona 

Larry from Brooklyn
While there is no doubt that we should be testing chemicals like the EU does, there is a bit of drama and paranoia here. I am not sure this guest is qualified to be giving advice on light therapy for seasonal affective disorder or whether LEDs should be used in street lighting which she admits she does not really know about (which she gave advice on anyway). Of course, no one should be staring blanking at lighting sources for long periods of time! Come on!

Dec 19, 2016, 12:39 PM

Dear Larry,  You misinterpreted my statement on seasonal affective disorder.  I asked the caller who recited all of the manufacturer's disclaimers about the effectiveness of their machine whether or not she didn't see that these disclaimers indicate that the manufacturer is telling her in legal language that they don't really know whether this thing works or not.  -  Monona

Ben from Manhattan 

Lead and uranium are also naturally occurring. Does your guest quai think those are safe? (Like she said plastics were, because they come from oil.) Cite studies, but don't give the false and misleading "if it's naturally occurring, it's ok" argument.

Dec 19, 2016, 12:23 PM

Dear Ben,  No, I don't think anything natural should ever be considered safe based on it's origins in nature. You have to look at each chemical separately from it's origins and just figure out what it can do to you.  Anyone who thinks I said "plastics are safe because they come from oil" have best listen to the tape agin.  I said that as chemicals, oils functions the same, irrespective of origin, when they are polymerized into a plastic.  So whether or not the plastic comes from a natural source or a petroleum one is not a relative issue for the user.  And often the additives to all plastics are more toxic than the polymer anyway -- that is, the fire retardants, plasticizers, dyes, fillers and more.  -  Monona


Holly from Millburn
I'm curious what Ms. Rossol's thoughts are on the safety of millimeter wave scanners at airports.

Dec 19, 2016, 12:21 PM

Dear Holly,  How interesting.  Millimeter wave lengths are listed by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as category 2B, possibly carcinogenic to humans.  That said, the penetration of these waves is limited to the first few cell layers of the skin. The speculation is that it might be able to cause skin cancer or fold skin proteins.   And there are no controlled studies of humans exposed in this exact way to these waves to be sure.  And there are so many other wave lengths that are bouncing off of us or going through us including but not limited to waves from this radio station, waves to your cell phone, from your kitchen microwave, the occasional medical X-ray, cosmic rays and more.  So it is unlikely that we will ever know for sure if there are some cancers or other effects are from this particular airport source. 

Here again, I think we have to risk assess: Let's see, an unlikely but possible skin cancer or being blown up on a plane.... hmmmm.  I guess I'll go with the millimeter wavelength exposure.  -  Monona