How to protect yourself from fumes
and dust and such
If you wonder how important this is, consider the case of a jewelry artist on Etsy (Etsy membership required to follow that link) who wrote, "I have been doing this for 4 years and really should have thought more about the health risks of being around this glue . . . hair loss, burning pain that presents like a neurological condition, memory loss, and now asthma-like breathing problems which have already landed me in the ER." The fumes also affected the other person living in her home, her husband.
An open window and a fan isn't enough
Below are two different ways to protect yourself. One sucks fumes and dust away at their source (for under $50). The other brings fresh air to a hood that you wear (for under $75).
This page is geared toward the artists and crafts people who work out of their own studios or homes and don't have large budgets or strong mechanical skills or tools normally used for these kinds of projects. What is needed for this can be picked up at Walmart and put together with duct tape.
Suck Fumes and Dust Away
Go to Walmart and buy $30 worth of 6" flexible duct and a 6" personal fan for $11. Duct tape them together and put the fan outside sucking fumes the fumes out through the tube.
Put the other end of the duct as close as possible, inches if possible, from the point at which fumes and dust are being created. Keep this end of the duct free so it can be moved to wherever it is needed.
6" flexible duct at Walmart, $10 per 8' section, you might need several sections taped together.
6" fan at Walmart to duct-tape to the duct (that's why they call it duct tape). $11
Also, get some duct tape.
You want duct that does not collapse with suction and that stays where you put it when you move it around. Flexible metal duct does that best, although vinyl dryer duct can work too, unless heat or flame is involved in your work. Then you really must use metal.
Put the fan outside far enough away to prevent fumes from coming back in through the window. In cold climates you probably will want to block off the portion of the window that might have to be open 6" to accommodate the duct work.
If you still smell the fumes, you need to do more.
You might want or have a different fan. I link to the one above because it is the same diameter as the duct and so should be easy to tape to the duct. I haven't used that one myself. I would be inclined to use a larger one, say 8 or 10 inches, and make a funnel arrangement to enable it to hook up to the duct. I did that once by making a frame out of steel conduit and wrapped it with heavy duty aluminum foil. This connected a 10 inch pipe to a 2 foot by 2 foot box fan when I wanted to move a lot of air.
Blow Fresh Air Into a Hood
It is the same thing in reverse. For this you probably need only 4" flexible duct, like vinyl clothes dryer duct. Metal duct might not be the best choice because it needs to be flexible enough for you to move around while it is attached to you. Also, since you will be blowing air in, instead of sucking air out, you don't have to worry about the duct collapsing from suction, as vinyl duct does, so the cheaper vinyl duct will work for this.
Tyvek hood with face shield $30.
You will connect the duct to a hood like the one at this link (shop around) by cutting an opening in the back of it at its base and duct taping the duct to it. This should be blowing air into the Tyvek cavity inside the hood that carries the air up to the top of the inside of the hood so that the fresh air must flow down in front of your face before it escapes out the bottom below your neck. You are protecting not just your lungs, but your eyes and ears as well from fumes and dust.
The end of the duct that is not connected to the hood should be in a location where there is fresh for the fan to blow into your hood.
The OSHA approved way involves buying a thousand dollar fresh air pump and expensive hose with proprietary fittings to connect to a mask like this. It would be a rare crafts person or artist who would do that, so I'm offering this work-around for people who won't spend that much and who are working in their own shops where OSHA regulations are not enforced.
By the way, do not wear a Tyvek hood in the presence of fire. Worse than breathing fumes is having something melted to your face while it is on fire.
Fire and Heat
If you work with vitreous enamel these systems will protect you from the invisible dust that drifts from the powdered glass that you sift. You really should have a suction system that catches all of that at its source.
However, if you wear a hood, you shouldn't wear a Tyvek hood around a kiln or furnace, especially if you built your own gas kiln like I did. You probably could fashion a hood out of untreated 100% cotton canvas (blends ignite - 100% cotton does not) and attach it to a face shield. The face shield at right is $11 at Grainger and has the advantage of having enough hard cover over the top of your head to provide a channel for the fresh air to travel between it and your head so that it flows over to your face.
If you have enough budget for more than that mask, and you work with heat, you might want to look into the face shields that have a thin gold coating on them. Gold is the most efficient reflector of IR and UV radiation known. Such masks can reflect more than 99% of the damaging invisible rays while letting through all of the visible ones for clearer vision. This protects both your skin and your eyes. Oberon makes a good one that was selling for $85 at this link at the time of this writing. It is amazing how completely they eliminate any sensation of the temperature of the radiant heat into which you are staring. Search on Heat Reflective Face Shield to see what else is out there.
If 4 inch and 6 inch duct isn't right for your work setup, you could make a similar, though louder, arrangement with a shop vac, if fire is not part of your setup. Those can be in the same price range and have hoses as small as 1.5". You might already own one. But you have to make sure that they are blowing the fumes and dust outside and that your ears are protected from the decibels put out by them.
Organic vapor filters and chemical masks often are recommended as convenient solutions, and I have used them (like the one at this link on another site), but at least one of mine apparently was not doing everything it was supposed to do. I no longer can smell ammonia or the aroma of fish going bad. In fact, I no longer am able to detect the smell of any food that is spoiled.
My sense of smell was acute until this. But my collection of the various masks designated for specific purposes, including one specifically designed to protect me from ammonia, did not do the job they were supposed to do and I was injured. What was I going to lose next from some exposure of which I could not become aware except through injury? Hearing? Vision? Memory? Now I breathe fresh air pumped from a safe location.
I make public art for outdoor display. My hazards include welding stainless steel, which can injure you almost immediately with worse problems developing with repeated exposure. I also torch-fire vitreous enamel and work with solvents and acids and alkali and smoke and dust.
In the photo I am leaning on limestone. Breathing the dust from it causes silicosis, a rapidly progressive, incurable lung disease that typically is fatal. But I'm fine. I don't breathe it. Historically, sculptors have almost made a tradition of shortening their lives by exposing themselves to such things.
So have other professions
The fumes from their soaps in hot water blinded washer women for centuries before it was discovered that the lye in the soap made the steam rising into their faces acidic enough to blind them.
Such things still happen
Where I went to college a young woman was dying fabric in a tub. She went in to check on it and some points of the fabric were sticking above the water. She pushed them back back down with her hands. It was the last time she ever felt anything in the tips of her fingers. What more slowly developing problems could result from breathing the fumes rising from such a tub?
The fumes from adhesives and solvents, among other things, eventually take the elasticity out of your lungs leaving you with emphysema - one of the reasons for why they don't make solvent based paint for house painters much anymore. Art supplies are exempted from this protection. You have to protect yourself.
We Don't Have NIOSH and OSHA
Metal fabricators know that cutting, grinding, welding and other hot processes applied to stainless steel put hot chromium in the air that is highly carcinogenic and after only a short exposure can leave you feeling as though you must have allergies, but it is damage you've done to your lungs.
Galvanized steel with such processes applied can injure you even faster.
The list would be very long, but the point is that not all dangers are obvious and perhaps not all known. So breathe fresh air and keep the fumes and dust that rise from your work from lingering in your home or shop where they can hurt you or other people or animals. It is worth spending some time and money on this. My 1500 degree gas fired kiln flared one time, and only one time, but it enveloped me in flames. I was wearing my safety equipment and so I inhaled none of it, none of it burned my open eyes, nothing on me caught on fire, and I was fine.
If it had cost as much as my car, that safety equipment would have been worth every cent of it that day. But that's just one dramatic moment. The thousand undramatic ones are why I am healthily typing this before heading back into my shop to make more art.