Gillian Genser is a Toronto artist who works with natural materials like bones, shells, dried plant material and egg shells.  But she was unknowingly slowly poisoning herself with her art. She had worked for several years on a sculpture of Adam using mussel shells. She spent hours, day after day, grinding up mussel shells. She did not use protection and breathed in all the dust. She later found years of fine dust accumulation in her house ventilation system.

Gillian wrote in this Toronto Life article, "After a few months working on Adam, I began to feel unwell. I was agitated all of the time. I had constant headaches, and I vomited often, sometimes a few times a day. I visited a never-ending assortment of specialists—neurologists, rheumatologists, endocrinologists—hoping to figure out what was wrong with me. When they asked me if I worked with anything toxic, I said no, that I only used natural materials."

But unfortunately pollution in our environment meant that filter feeders like mussels take up heavy metals like methyl mercury, lead and arsenic. These toxins accumulate and concentrate in their shells. It wasn't until she learned this fact from a curator at the Royal Ontario Museum that she realized what was making her ill.

" The impact on my already poor medical condition was severe. I suffered neurological damage, substantial hearing loss and severe and permanently debilitating mental health consequences before my medical practitioners were able to identify the poisoning."

Gillian will never fully recover. She poignantly added, "But while I continue to work, even though it’s more difficult every day, I feel a terrible sadness. When we talk about environmental damage, we speak of declines in populations. Numbers and species. But I’ve experienced the suffering of so many creatures trapped in their polluted habitats."

Note : If you are going to drill sea shells, make sure you do it with the shells under some water to contain the dust.  If you cannot submerge the object to be drilled, then make sure you wear a proper dust mask.

Often people think natural things are not toxic.  There are indeed toxins in nature let alone what mankind has dumped in the environment!  Natural toxins are produced by animals and plants to protect themselves. Also, as any toxicologist will tell you - all things are potentially poisonous - even water and oxygen - it is the dose which makes the poison.  Gillian was chronically exposed to the toxins for a long, long time.

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Original Post by THE BEADING GEM
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