I thought about writing up a short summary of the potential dangers lurking in our hobby as I’m not sure all of them are widely known. Let’s hope it’s something of use for everyone.
So here it goes.
Well, that’s a no-brainer. We cut with scalpels, saws and other sharp instruments. Common sense (and really sharp blades) are a must. Seriously: don’t try to work with a dull scalpel; it’s more dangerous than a sharp one.
Well, if we’re at the cutting stage… Resin is dangerous. I’m not kidding. It’s toxic when in liquid form (the fumes and the resin itself), so keep this in mind if you DO work with liquid resin, but you can basically eat it once solidified. However, cutting resin with a fine saw, or sanding it releases very fine dust. And this fine dust is a carcinogen -in other words, it’ll increase your chances of developing (mainly) lung cancer. It also stays airborne for a long-long time, giving a chance for everyone sharing the room with you to enjoy the health effects.
You should either wear a mask and work in a fume hood when your are producing resin dust, or, a simpler -and safer- solution is simply to use wet sawing/wet sanding techniques. In practice it means you should be working with resin under running water (or a constantly wetted saw/drill/sandpaper), so that the dust is immediately absorbed. This way you are not endangering yourself or your loved ones. (This is a thing to keep in mind for any activities that create fine dust- even carpentry. If you sand your model, use wet sanding techniques, period.)
Dangerous chemicals: glues, paints and fumes
Well, yeah. A lot of the stuff we use have organic solvents. Adhesives, paints, glues… and organic solvents, such as turpentine, white spirit, benzene (I believe this one is not in any of our stuff, though), toluene, etc. are NOT good for you. At all.
When you use glue, have proper ventilation. You can also use special glues that are less toxic, such as Tamiya’s Limonene. Sometimes you can consider using simple white glue; surprisingly, it can have multiple uses. As a turpentine/white spirit alternative you can get ZestIt, which is a much more gentle alternative. (I’m trying to avoid doing product endorsements, but in these cases I did not find any other alternatives.)
Superglue is a separate issue altogether. It was used to glue wounds together on the field in Vietnam, until the injured could be evacuated to proper medical facilities, so no surprise here that it’s perfectly capable of gluing fingers together. Pulling will only tear the skin off – use debonder, or acetone to release your fingers. The fumes of the glue are not very safe to inhale either, so, again- ventilation. (The fumes are also perfectly capable of “frosting” any clear parts or finished paintwork, so ventilation is also quite important to avoid ruining the model if you add parts after the painting phase.
Painting… there are several types used in modelling, as we know. I will not go into all the different types; there are several detailed explanations online what paints are available for an average modeller. Just a short (and somewhat incorrect) introduction from the point of health and safety. The so-called enamel paints have nasty organic solvents, but have better properties; many people prefer to use these for their work. The solvents used in acrylic ones are less dangerous but you make trade-offs with the durability and coverage. (Personally I don’t use enamels at all.) When you brush any model paints, ventilation is, again, a must.
Solvents are only one side of the equation, though. Airbrushing paint creates small particles of paint in the air… and as we know, small airborne particles are not good for you. When you use your airbrush, it is imperative that you either are in a very, very well ventilated area (such as outside of your house – I sometimes paint on the patio), or, better yet, you use a spray booth. I cannot stress this part enough: if you use an airbrush, get yourself a paint booth. You can either buy one (the price ranges from expensive to very, very, very expensive), or you can make one using stuff you can get from any DIY store.
If you go with the buying option, there are affordable, folding versions available; I can wholeheartedly recommend those. (They save on space, if you don’t live in a mansion.)
If you make one, just get a large plastic box, a brushless fume extractor (this can be important, as organic fumes and electric sparks are not very good together), some HePa filters, and ducting – even with mediocre skills one can build a pretty functional fume hood. I went this way when I was in Florida, but had to leave it behind when I moved across the ocean. It cost about 50 dollars altogether, and took about 3 hours to construct. (Test it with a scented candle or something of that sort: if the smell/scent does not come out of the hood, you’re fine.)