Sennelier Tinfix dyes are irritating my throat and affecting my voice. Are they toxic?
Sorry to bother you with questions, but I don't think it's answered on your WONDERFUL website! I'm new to painting on silk and have fallen in love with it.
I took a workshop with a wonderful teacher this summer--Deborah Nathans at Snowfarm, Mass. We used Procion and Sennelier French dyes. Since then I bought the Sennelier dyes and have been working on my own.
1) Even though I use very little dye at one time, I feel I can smell it and it affects my voice (makes it scratchy sounding)--and I've only used the dyes for a month or so! Do you know anything about the Sennelier dyes and possible toxicity?
I have one slightly scary story. Check out the following Dyeing Q&A blog entry: "Did Sennelier Tinfix Silk Dyes cause my wife's hyperthyroidism?", posted August 30, 2007. My conclusion was that Sennelier dyes probably did not cause this individual's hyperthyroidism; however, the way that the Sennelier company dealt with the situation was, to me, horrifying, since they refused to give any of the required information.
The French silk dyes, including Sennelier Tinfix, Dupont, and Pebeo Soie, are apparently acid and/or basic dyes (depending on the individual color) which have been dissolved in alcohol (ethanol, isopropanol, or another alcohol) and/or water. There is NO information available about which specific dyes might be found in any of these lines of dye.
The French dyes are probably not a huge danger to the artists who use them, but they should be used with care, with good ventilation and with consistent use of gloves. Those who are particularly safety conscious will find the lack of information about the contents of these dyes to be a problem and will prefer to use other dyes, instead, about which more safety information is available, such as the Colour Index (generic) names of the dyes themselves. Since you have been experiencing irritation, I would advise you to discontinue their use, unless you can find a respirator that prevents your irritation altogether.
Some Sennelier Tinfix silk dyes have been certified to bear the CL Seal of the ACMI, which does NOT indicate that they are non-toxic. The CL Seal is a cautionary seal, for art materials which should not be used by children, which indicates that the materials are labeled for any health risks. (Dick Blick Art Materials describes it as follows: "Products bearing the CL seal of the Art & Creative Materials Institute ("Caution Label") contain ingredients that are toxic or hazardous, but when used in properly supervised and controlled conditions, they can be enjoyed with complete safety.") Sennelier Tinfix Design colors that bear the CL cautionary label include Coral Red, Antique Red, Ruby Red, Ultramarine Violet, Violet, Indian Purple, Madder Purple, Violet Blue, Persian Blue, Celestial Blue, Burnt Sienna, Van Dyck Brown, and Tobacco. The remaining colors of Sennelier Tinfix have been certified to use the AP (Approved Product) Seal of the ACMI, which means that they are considered non-toxic.
An MSDS I have seen for Sennelier Tinxfix dyes claims that they are free of any known hazardous substance, but that is obviously untrue if the alcohol content is high enough to cause as much irritation to you as it has been doing.
I called someone at AO Safety (respirator mfr) hoping I could use a respirator, but after researching the dyes they didn't seem to think a respirator would help and suggested a fresh air compressor and face mask with tube!
It appears that respirators are not very good at removing alcohol vapor from the air, so clean air must be supplied from outside the area, if the alcohol in the dye mixtures is to be prevented from irritating you as it has been doing. See, for example, the recommendations at the CDC for isopropanol (rubbing alcohol). If the level of alcohol vapor is low, a respirator with an organic vapor cartridge may be sufficient, but if it is high, a positive-pressure supplied-air respirator may be required. I would guess that the level from painting with Sennelier Tinfix dyes would be on the lower end, but I do not know.
2) Do you think the liquid Procion dyes are safer? (I wouldn't want to buy as powder knowing how careful you have to be).
Yes. The liquid fiber reactive dyes, including Procion H, Remazol, and Drimarene K, are dissolved in water, which is not irritating in the same way as you have found alcohol-based dye mixtures to be. Also, the identities of the individual dyes are available, so it is possible to know what you're getting into, which is not possible with the French dyes. I still recommend that you avoid getting the dye on your skin, just to be cautious, but I am less concerned about the safety of most reactive dyes. (Many Procion and Remazol dyes are on the Oeko-Tex 100 list of acceptably safe dyes; see the Oeko-Tex site and Dystar's publication about the Oeko-Tex Standard 100 (PDF).)
You don't really have to avoid buying dye powder out of fear of toxicity, because the precautions are quite easy to make. It is far easier to avoid breathing a powder than it is to avoid breathing a solvent. The dye powder is not dangerous when used with a reasonable amount of care. However, if you don't want to deal with dye powder, you don't have to! Your choices are then, in no particular order:
• liquid Procion H dyes (related to Procion MX dyes, but requiring steaming); you can buy Procion H in liquid form in the US from Jacquard suppliers such as Dharma Trading Company, and in Canada from G&S Dye.
• liquid Remazol dyes, which you can buy in the US from PRO Chemical & Dye, or in more dilute mixtures from Jacquard suppliers as Jacquard Red Label Silk Colors
• liquid Drimarene K from Batik Oetoro in Australia, for people who are located close enough to them for liquids to not be prohibitively expensive to ship.
It is also possible to mix your own silk paint from acid dyes, but that would require working with dye powder, which you're interested in avoiding.
3) Also, I steamed the silk in my kitchen (won't use the pot or anything for food again) but is it even safe to steam in your kitchen? Would the fumes be toxic?
The amount of fumes in the silk after you have let the dye dry on it, including alcohol-based French dyes, will be minimal to non-existent. Letting the steamer boil dry could produce unpleasant fumes, but that would probably be the least of your worries if that happened. Steam will not, as far as I know, carry any sort of dye particles out of a steamer.
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Posted: Tuesday - October 02, 2007 at 11:48 AM