Safely Working With Gourds

Health and Safety: The Risk to Gourd Workers

by Joseph G. Koss [email protected],

Valparaiso Indiana Art Educator, Gourd Artist, Gourd Advocate member AGS, IGS

This report is not intended to discourage or frighten the gourd enthusiast from working with gourds or the beginning gourd person from starting a creative hobby or career. Like all things in life, each and every job, sport, hobby or life style has its “down side”, but we should learn to respect their hazards and enjoy all of the good aspects of the activity.

In the past, primitive methods of gourd crafting were more environmentally safe, but with the advent of power machinery and people bringing the gourd crafting process into the home, these practices have become a potential health problem. This closed home environment has blossomed into a health crisis for all members of the family. Health and safety now becomes an issue.

This report is a wake-up call to all gourd workers, both young and older, who think they are inviolable or invincible because of their present health or youth. To dismiss the potential problems is asking for health problems in the future.

The ideas expressed in this report give gourd workers a range of choices to find and select safety items at a variety of price levels with of course, differing degrees of protection: the choices are yours.

If this report causes gourd workers to consider seriously the potential ailments and diseases that are possible by not using good gourd safety practices, then my effort writing this report will have been time and service well spent. Please consider any redundancy or repetition of some of the statements in this report as positive reinforcements.

Our responsibility to Gourd Crafters, Gourd Artists and all Gourd

It is an established and well-known fact, that airborne gourd pollutants can and will create an environment that is conducive to many types of respiratory and chronic ailments. For those individuals who are gourding and gourd crafting, the urgency of protecting your health and the health of those in close proximity to you is in your hands. Working in an environment contaminated with gourd irritants is a man-made hazard that is a serious problem. All participants are likely candidates for medical problems. If, when working on a gourd, you can taste gourd dust in your mouth, you and those around you, are candidates for medical problems.

It is also likely that some gourd crafters will not notice the ” taste effect” of gourd irritants; beware these irritants are silent attackers.

The big culprit is the habitual or continued breathing of very fine gourd dust and cellulose particulate. These particulate materials contain chemical compounds that bind, harden and preserve the dried gourd. Secondary chemicals are created from bacterial decay, molds, spores and other microorganisms within and on the gourd during natural curing process.

Gourd smoke, gourd fumes and other gourd irritants, which are produced by the pyro-engraving techniques can be accumulative and are harmful to the lungs. These particulates, if not eliminated, will end up as problematic respiratory diseases.

The health of all gourd crafters participating in these unhealthy gourd related practices, are at great risk. Using a respirator with the correct filter when pyro-engraving is the sensible way to go.

Gourd crafters should always use dust protection measures to capture and remove as much of the gourd dust from their working environment as possible. Breathing dust that settles on clothing or anything around the operator, is just as hazardous as breathing the dust from the working process.

A breathing mask or respirator that is designed to filter ultra fine dust particulates is necessary. Respirators designed to trap the smoke and fumes created when pyro-engraving can be purchased to prevent the gourd crafter from most of these irritants. These irritants can cause the mucous in the eyes, ears, throat and lungs to become thicker and therefore lose their effectiveness. It makes it more difficult to cough and or eliminate congestion from the lungs, tear ducts, etc., causing infections, colds, allergies and many other chronic ailments.

The gourd crafter should know that even an occasional crafter could become affected by anyone of the irritants. Long time crafters still in good health cannot assume that they are spared from these health hazards. Denial will create health problems at a later date, which are NOT REVERSIBLE.

Mission Statement:

It is desirable that the following recommendations be adopted by all concerned and that an educational health and safety program be initiated.

Inform all State Gourd Society Members and all Gourd Workers of the harmful effects working and crafting gourds.

Help define the suspect gourd irritants that create symptoms of ailments.

Make known possible respiratory illnesses caused by gourd irritants.

Provide medical links for self-evaluation of symptoms before seeing a

Recommend safety gear suppliers links for protective gear.

Make known possible safety solutions against gourd irritants.

Suggest that gourd artists and gourd workers recommend to all Gourd Clubs, Garden Clubs, National, State and Local Gourd Societies that they adopt mission statements in their respective club constitutions to inform and to protect all people who work with gourds and the crafting of gourds.

Recommend that the Gourd Educational Health and Safety Process be extended to include the following gourd practitioners: All gourd craft teachers, art teachers, and those who relay gourd information to others.

Recommend to gourd growers, gourd suppliers and gourd seed distributors, that they participate in the dissemination of gourd health and safety information by advising the public of the potential health hazard of working with and handling gourds by using warning labels on all gourds and gourd seed packages.

Suspect Gourd Irritants and Pollutants:

Gourd Dust

Gourd drying, cleaning, drilling, sawing, filing, sanding and sealing, Handling of live gourd plants. Disposing of dried gourd plants.

Molds, Bacteria and Spores

Osmosis process of gourd drying; airborne pollution and cleaning of dried gourds.

Gourd Smoke and Fumes

Burning as in pyro-engraving, fumes from burning, wax fumes, paints, thinners, solvents, adhesives and dyes.

Other Irritants found in the crafting of Gourds

Bleach, detergents, cleaning solutions, polyurethane foam, paints, latex gloves, other.

Suspect Gourd Related Lung / Respiratory Diseases:

This list is empirical in nature only. Many diseases are caused by extended exposure to irritating or toxic substances that may cause acute or chronic respiratory ailments. It is known that a single exposure can cause a chronic lung disease.

This list is only a partial list of potential medical problems that may occur when working with gourds. It is a summary of potential aliments and diseases that are suspected from gourd irritants and these irritants can also affect and agitate old ailments, prolong existing ailments, and create new ones.


Exposure to dust, vapors, gases, and fumes are called “Asthma Triggers”; a respiratory disease characterized by inflammation of the airways, various stimuli, progressively worsening coughing, wheezing, chest tightness and shortness of breath.


The air sacs in the lungs are damaged or destroyed by exposure to dust, vapors, gases, and fumes. This is an irreversible condition leading to poor exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide between the air in the lungs and the bloodstream.

Bronchitis (Chronic) Lung Infections

The bronchial tubes may have been irritated initially by bacterial or viral infections, resulting in a long term inflammation of the lining and of the bronchial tubes. When the bronchi are inflamed and or infected less air is able to flow to and from the lungs leaving the patient with a heavy mucus or phlegm on many days of the month. Cigarette smoking and other smoke irritants are the common cause of Chronic Bronchitis.

Byssinosis (brown lung)

A chronic condition involving obstruction of the small airways, severely impairing lung functions. It is caused by dust from hemp, flax cotton processing and possibly (dust from gourd crafting).


Exposure to free crystalline silica, and vitreous pollutants.

Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis

Inhalation of fungus spores and mold.

Occupational Lung Diseases

Carbon compounds in smoke and dust.

Hay fever

Dust from raw gourd embellishments etc.


Dust and other irritants.


Dust and other gourd irritants.


Dust and other gourd irritants


Dust and other gourd irritants.


Most dust and gourd air pollutants.

Memory Loss & Dizziness

Most dust and gourd air pollutants.

Suggestions and Partial Solutions For Safety Protection:

The following is a major listing of recommended safety items to consider for healthy gourd crafting and handling:

Wear a half respiratory mask or full respiratory mask when working and crafting gourds.

Wearing a paper mask, any paper mask, is better than no protection.

Gourd crafting should not be done in a closed environment.

Wipe molding gourds with a mild solution of soap and bleach.

Gourd crafting should never be attempted in a home living area.

Clean all gourds outside the home.

Painting, and sealing using aerosol types cans, should always be done in a well-ventilated craft center (workplace) or outside the home.

Paintbrushes and residues should be cleaned in special pans and discarded safely.

Gourd cleaning in a household washing facility such as a washing machine or dishwasher can be harmful to other members of the household.

Gourd cleaning in a public clothes-washing facility is a reckless practice of spreading contamination to the unsuspecting public. Storing gourds in the living area of your home is not recommended under any circumstances.

Gourds should be stored outside the home. This will also discourage rodents.

Solvents, paints, sealants and all applied liquid gourd embellishment materials should be used with caution and their usage directions followed.

Gourd items made for food usage must be sealed with approved food safe finishes, and/or sealers for safe food consumption.

The Work Place:

It is recommended that the work place should NOT BE in the general household living area, but rather in an area that can be contained, controlled and isolated from all gourd irritants as far as possible. If not, precautions and alternative measures must prevail to protect other members of the household, animals and other pets, and yourself. It is recommended that the work place should be located in an area that has windows for ventilation and floors that are conducive to easy cleaning. GFI protected electrical outlets are essential and water is a must for cleaning.

Clean Air Systems for the Work Place:

Dust collection systems can cost anywhere from $120.00 to more than $1000.00. The use of any system is well worth the price; with no system you still pay the health price. The system you select should be based on your needs and may contain one or more of the following:

Air purifiers

Air Control Devices

Dust collecting Device

Portable Dust collector

Vacuum Cleaners

Exhaust Fan


Useful Health and Safety Information

Suggested Safety Gear and Clothing:

Respiratory Mask

Paper Mask

Eye Goggles


Apron /Lab Jacket

Shop shoes, or shoe covers

Hair Net or head and hair cover


Useful Protective Breathing Devices and Clothing

Bio-fighter Mask

Useful Publications and Safety Information


Publications: (# of pages)

All about Wax (4)

Anthraquinone dyes & pigments (3)

Art painting (5)

Biological hazards (9)

Carbon monoxide (4)

D- limonite: the citrus solvent (4)

Dyes and pigments (8)

Labels: reading between the lies (6)

Oven cured polymer clays (6)

Selecting children’s art materials (5)

Solvents (9)

Teaching art & theater safely (7)

Threshold limit values (2)

Understanding mss (2)

Urethane resin systems (6)

Ventilation for art buildings (6)

American Lung Association:

Fact Sheet; Occupational Lung Disease

Harbor Freight Tools

Summary and Conclusion:

After checking various papers, it appears that no scientific epidemiological studies of gourd crafters, artists and gourd workers at risk exist.

It should be noted that all plant species are chemical factories, which create a host of substances, many of which are harmful to the human body.

The major material in gourds is cellulose; the chief constituent of the cell walls of plants and wood, cotton hemp, paper, etc.

The remaining content comprises hundreds of compounds and chemicals that are not well studied; some of which may be considered harmful.

Bacterial decay, molds and other microorganisms that attack the plant are secondary chemicals, which are considered irritants that can also be harmful.

It is well documented(1) in a study of woodworkers, that eighty percent or more of all Adenocarcinomas diseases such as allergies, lung problems, asthma, dermatitis and cancer are the result of dust. Some of us mistakenly want to believe that “Mother Nature” loves us. But she doesn�t care if you want a food or poison – she can provide it. If you want to cure cancer or to cause cancer “Go To Nature”.

The gourd craftsperson and all gourd workers must protect their work place from gourd pollution; do not let the dust and other irritants contaminate your home. Protect yourself, your children and your workplace. Furthermore, if not respected, any or all products utilized in gourd crafting are potential hazards to the health and welfare of the user and those people that frequent the gourding work area.

As new information is researched, and new solutions are found in this field, this report may need updating. It is important that all people involved with gourds, promote the health and welfare of all gourd workers amongst their peers.

No longer can we tolerate the recruitment of new gourd workers(2) without providing them with educational health information.

All gourd classes, gourd clubs, State and National gourd societies must adopt in their constitutions, provisions to protect their members. Gourd vendors, gourd seed companies, gourd growers and anyone selling or distributing raw gourds should cooperate by adding “Warning Labels” regarding the potential health hazards of crafting gourds.

The same health warnings and laws that govern miners, fiber workers, lumberjacks and the American public from tobacco and other potentially dangerous materials, should be extended to the gourd worker.

Health and safety hidden agendas for whatever purpose, are wrong. No man, woman or child should be sacrificed for monetary gain or other agendas.

Joseph G. Koss.

Indiana Gourd Grower, Gourd Advocate, Gourd Artist, W2 Marine Veteran,
Indiana Art Education Teacher, Retired. Member ISTA, IGS, & AGS, Duneland
Image Makers, Duneland Woodcarvers. Valparaiso, Indiana December 7, 2002

1. Mona Russell: Safety Director, United Scenic Artist Local 829 IATSE

2. Gourd Worker: Any person who crafts gourds, is a member of a gourd related organization, participates in gourd classes or is new to the hobby of gourd crafting.


This dissertation may be used for the purpose of informing gourd workers of the dangers of gourd pollution and possible solutions to a healthier working environment; This document may not be edited without permission. Permissions granted will be recorded. The use of this document may be obtained by contacting Joseph G. Koss at [email protected]