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my co poisoning story

updated fri 21 sep 07


Kenneth Chin-Purcell on thu 20 sep 07

A couple of years ago I rented studio space in Minneapolis from some
potters who fired in a large gas kiln, which was walled off in the
corner of a warehouse space with its own ventilation. They liked to
hammer the reduction; you could always smell the kiln in the middle
of the firing.

One day we were all eating lunch while the kiln fired, and that
reduction smell was in the air but no more than usual. It was cold
enough outside that the doors were closed. We just sat there,
munching our food, growing stupider and stupider, like Al Gore's
frog. One potter complained of a headache, then just thought she was
coming down with a cold. She left, then a bit later I remember
asking for some ibuprofen, then went to get some shopping done. The
last potter there thought she just needed to sleep, was tempted to
lie down on the couch (thank god she didn't!) but instead turned up
the kiln and left to take a nap at home.

I remember wandering around Costco for a half hour, not really buying
anything, when my brain suddenly cleared - it was only then I
realized something was wrong. Took another deep breath, headed for
the hardware aisle, bought a digital CO alarm and raced back to the
studio. The sensor went off right away.

It turned out that there were some cracks in the stack that were
leaking flue gasses. I would bet that CO wasn't the only toxin in
the air that afternoon. My wife and the phone nurse talked me into
going down to the ER, and six hours after my exposure I still tested
with enough CO in my blood that they gave me some oxygen.

I now treat gas kilns with a bit more respect. I would be hard
pressed to work in the same building with one, no matter how well
ventilated, and I can't imagine sharing living space with a gas kiln.

-- Ken Chin-Purcell
Bungalow Pottery