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This Toronto Artist Slowly Poisoned Herself with Her Art


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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17 comments:

  1. Also bones. I worked on moose and deer antlers back in the 1980s drilling them for crib boards and the old guy who was teaching me ordered (YES) me to wear a dust mask, that I could get an awful disease by breathing in the bone dust, even from drilling just a few holes. And he didn't allow people to smoke in his shed either because they'd be inhaling and super-heating dust and particulate matter into their lungs, as well.

    But what a chilling description of what happened to this lady: what pollution is doing to ocean and land critters shows how we're all in this together.

    Thanks for publishing this, Pearl.
    Barbara

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  2. What an absolutely uplifting article, however cautionary. Thanks for adding to the depressive environment.

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  3. And at this article, I am unsubscribing after 20+ years.

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    1. Sorry to see you go! FYI I have been writing for 12 years!

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    2. This is a VERY important & informative article that could & most likely will save lives, & this is the perfect venu for it since obviously many artists visit your site. Why anyone would be upset by it is beyond me! You are to be thanked & applauded for writing it!

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    3. Avoiding things doesn't make them go away. I for one am glad of the reminder to be aware of the toxicity of things we work with even when they are "natural". This woman's art is lovely. What an unfortunate price to pay.

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    4. Thanks Lisa and Carla. It is the safety reminder which prompted me to write about Gillian's story. Always stay safe with the proper protection and procedures.

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  4. Wow, who'd athunk? thank you for sharing this cautionary tale.

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  5. This is so sad. I have often heard that while poison in a measured quantity is good, nectar in large amounts can be dangerous.

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    1. There are toxins that are deadly in small quantities - botulism poisoning is caused by the bacteria Clostridium botulinum - one of the deadliest. But a very, very small amount of that toxin is used as botox!

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  6. How brave of Gillian to share her story and thank you for sharing it. And we still don't realize the danger of the toxins and other chemicals that we release into the atmosphere. And to think that even after centuries we are still not aware of the dangers that exist. The expression "mad as a hatter" was based on the toxic nature of mercury that was used in making hats in the 19th and 20th centuries. The use of mercury in making hats was not banned until the early 1940's. And who knows what else in industrial pollution is looming out there to cause harm to the environment and humans.

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    1. Toxicology is a fascinating subject especially the historical cases. We have much to learn today that is why I shared this cautionary tale as some jewelry makers do use shells.

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  7. Yikes! Good heads up. That is so sad.

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  8. Thanks for this, Pearl. It's good to be reminded to work safely. :)

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  9. Thank you for sharing Gillian's very sad story and I wish her the best for the future.

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  10. What a great piece of service journalism, Pearl! Thank you for sharing Gillian's heartbreaking story. It's so important for makers to be aware of potential dangers.

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You're AWESOME! Thanks for the comment and feedback. You do make a difference on my blog!

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