There are two primary safety issues regarding handling gourds. The first is the mold that grows on them; the other is dust created by scraping, brushing, or sanding the inside and/or outside of the gourd. These issues affect all of us in one way or another, with varying degrees of consequences.
Gourd crafting is fun—planning and common sense when you are curing, cleaning, cutting, sanding, or burning the gourds will allow safe and healthful working conditions and protect you, your family and pets from the hazards of mold and dust.
All mold spores can potentially be harmful. You should not dry your gourds in the house or garage if you allow them to acquire mold on the surface during the process. When mold is bumped or jarred, it can release millions of spores; you breathe these into your lungs, potentially causing health issues. The most common problems once mold spores are inhaled are flu-like symptoms, headaches, or congestion with a cough (this can last for weeks). Some mold spores may cause negative health effects later in life. Massive or repeated doses of mold spores can effect your central nervous system leaving you uncoordinated and can cause brain damage, organ destruction, cancer, and many other issues.
You can prevent the mold by wiping or spraying the drying gourds every day or two with a mixture of ½ cup bleach per gallon of water. Some say that white vinegar is better than bleach because the white vinegar kills the spores while the bleach does not kill the spores but rather sterilizes the surface, eliminating the mold’s ability to grow. You should proceed with caution when cleaning the gourd – and do it outdoors or in a well-ventilated area! Always wear a mask, gloves, and goggles when cleaning mold off your gourds.
Mold spores are light – they float in the air, often unseen. Everyone breathes a few mold spores every day. Molds are common and normal in the world and are a part of everyday life. Not all molds are dangerous but all molds can affect people with hay fever, asthma, and immune deficiencies. All molds should be treated with respect.
It is the concentration of molds that one needs to be concerned about. If you are sorting through or moving a pile of gourds, use the hose to water them down first. Once the mold is wet, the spores are weighted and the water will hold most of them down. Wetting the gourds can help reduce the risk of breathing the spores. Once you have selected a gourd, take extra precaution by wrapping the gourd in a damp towel while moving it and keep it damp until you remove the mold with the bleach-water solution. It is NOT advisable to take the gourd into your house to clean it, because you will be releasing the mold spores indoors. Doing so repeatedly would increase the concentration of spores trapped in the carpet, clothing, duct work, etc.
You really do not want to acquire any of the problems created by mold spores from your gourds. The medical profession does not consider molds to be contagious (i.e., transferred from person to person) and thus does not treat mold-caused problems as normal viral and bacterial illnesses. Some mold-caused conditions – because they appear to be an otherwise known ailment – may actually be worsened by the use of the normal first lines of medical defense – antibiotics and steroids. Most mold-related illnesses either go entirely undetected or are seen as bacterial infection or viral issues.
There are several types of air purifiers which can help your air quality – Hepa (particle filtration), Ionic purifiers, Ultra Violet light purifiers, Ozone purifiers, incinerator air cleaners, systems that combine two or more of these processes, and Air Diffusers used in Aromatherapy. Hepa filter systems remove particulate matter via basic filters and will catch most mold spores. Many Ionic purifiers have charged plates that trap the negative ions that are created; however, ionic purifiers can create ozone, which may have possible dangers for you. Ultra Violet (UV) purifiers basically alter the DNA of bacteria and viruses, reducing their ability to reproduce. Some UV purifiers may also create ozone. Incinerator air purifiers use ceramic heat plates that "cook" particles; the high temperature appears to kill most mold spores. Some herbologists recommend an Air Diffuser using Purification oil or Linen oil. They claim these oils will kill mold spores. Before purchasing any of these, you should do research and weigh the pro’s and con’s of each type purification system. Choose the system that you feel best suits your needs.
In the past, primitive methods of gourd crafting were more environmentally safe. The advent of power machinery and the fact that people bring gourd-crafting processes into the home have caused these practices to become a potential health problem. The closed-home environment has blossomed into a health crisis for all family members.
Many of the gourd irritants are silent attackers. The biggest culprit is the continued breathing of very fine gourd dust and cellulose particulates. Secondary chemicals are created from bacterial decay, molds, spores and microorganisms within and on the gourd during the natural curing process. Gourd smoke, gourd fumes and other gourd irritants produced by pyro-engraving techniques can be cumulative and are harmful to the lungs.
Gourd crafters should always use dust protection measures to capture and remove as much gourd dust from their working environment as possible. A breathing mask or respirator that is designed to filter ultra fine dust particles is necessary. There are also respirators designed to trap smoke and fumes when wood burning.
Gourd dust is created during gourd drying, cleaning, drilling, sawing, filing, sanding and sealing processes; handling live gourd plants and disposing of dried gourd plants also generates dust. Many diseases are caused by extended exposure to irritating or toxic substances and they may cause acute or chronic respiratory ailments.
It is apparent that exposure to gourd dust and other gourd-related irritants can lead to or worsen the symptoms of asthma, emphysema, bronchitis, byssimosis (Brown lung), silicosis, hay fever, rhinitis, sinusitis, laryngitis, dermatitis, allergies of the eye, nose, throat, or scalp, and even memory loss and dizziness. Studies have shown that even a single exposure to gourd dust can lead to serious problems in someone particularly susceptible to the dust.
It is the responsibility of the gourd crafter to look after their own health and safety as well as that of their family and others in close proximity to their working areas. This includes your pets!
There are many simple, inexpensive, and common-sense actions one can take to protect their health. Gourd-crafting should never be attempted in a home living area nor in any closed environment. Storing gourds in any living area of your home is not recommended. Your crafting activities should take place in well-ventilated workplaces and outside the home.
Dust collection systems range from inexpensive to well over $ 1,000. The use of any system is well worth the cost—otherwise, your health will pay the price. Systems range from air purifiers to air control devices to dust collecting devices. There are portable dust collectors, fans, exhaust fans, and vacuum cleaners.
The work area should be located in an area that has windows for ventilation and floors that are conducive to easy cleaning.
Wear a paper mask or a half-respiratory mask—such masks are better than no protection at all. Of course, full-respirator masks are the best. With any respirator mask, be sure to use the proper filter for the activities you are performing.
Other protective safety gear and clothing include eye goggles, gloves, aprons, lab jackets, and shop shoes or shoe covers. Obviously, the fine dust will cling to your clothing, so be sure to launder work clothes right away—don’t leave them lying around or toss them in with other laundry.