Sick from OMS: Not as toxic does not equal non-toxic May 21, 2018 11:59

A while ago I bought some odorless mineral spirits (OMS), thinking I would try it as a solvent now and then to add to paints but use it mostly to clean brushes. Instead, after trying spike oil as a paint solvent, I decided to forego adding any solvent to my paint at all. I stuck with walnut alkyd instead. For brush cleaning, I generally use oil and then bar soap or dish detergent. I tried d-limonene for some really cruddy brushes and it worked but wow, the scent sure is strong and really spreads so I don't plan to get another bottle when the one I have runs out. Ditto for spike, actually. I do not like strong smells.

Yesterday when I was done painting, I cleaned my brushes with oil and a rag and then decided to give them a good cleaning with OMS. I poured a little into a disposable muffin tin and cleaned them. Set them aside and photographed my work in progress, posted about it on Instagram and Facebook, and so forth. Went to bed with a bit of a headache.

This morning I woke up horribly dizzy, nauseated, feeling feverish and just plain sick. I thought I must be getting the flu again. Took my temperature and it was normal. Had a dry mouth although not dehydrated. Drank some spearmint tea for the nausea and debated going to the doctor because of the dizziness.

I've had vertigo from ear stuff, but this was completely different. The ear stuff makes me feel like the world is spinning around like a carnival ride and it's going to throw me off. This dizziness today felt way more internal, like a lack of balance. The world was not spinning; I just felt very unsteady and woozy. I thought I might fall. Every morning I go downstairs to unlock the door for deliveries, and I had to really take my time this morning. 

The cats were more and more insistent about breakfast, so I fed them, despite feeling so lousy. That's when I saw it. The muffin tin of OMS was sitting on my painting table, which is about five feet away from my bed. I've been working on getting a studio but they are so disorganized here that they still have not even cleared it of the previous tenant's things, much less painted it. It's been several months now. I've been painting solvent free pretty much from the beginning with oils and even quit using walnut alkyd a couple weeks ago because I thought it might be causing eye irritation (which did stop after I switched to plain walnut oil). I knew I could handle the longer drying time of plain walnut oil just by keeping more paintings in the queue. Something would always be dry enough to paint on. That's working very well for me, and I like that I don't have to worry about getting sensitized to anything with my paints now. Plus walnut oil does not smell anywhere near as much as linseed oil.

At any rate, I'd slept with OMS evaporating into my living space all night. I had about half the windows partly open, so I was lucky it wasn't worse. None of my cats seemed to be affected, thank the gods.

I cleaned everything up and dumped the OMS. Got out my large industrial fan and put that in the window. Opened the rest of the windows. Lay down for a couple hours.

The nausea has mostly gone. Still have some dizziness, but not as bad. Won't be using that stuff ever again. It does make me wonder if I am sensitized to it now, which would suck. I used Gamvar, which is 50% OMS, for the first time a week ago to varnish a painting. It did give me a little headache but did not smell. It left a great finish on the painting and was very easy and quick to do. I would hate to have to give that up now that I just found it. I've tried using Dorland's Wax Medium as a finish instead, and it's not as nice on oil as it is on watercolor. At least once I get the studio, I can varnish in there with a fan blasting. 

I knew that the idea that OMS was pretty harmless was incorrect. But I didn't realize just how harmful it can be. I honestly felt like I was poisoned this morning.