Epoxy Allergic Reaction


Before continuing I want to address a question that has been ask several times - "How are you dealing with your epoxy reaction?" Those of you that have read my Cabin Skiff building log know I developed a serious epoxy reaction.  So bad, in fact, I had to stop working on the boat for several months while I healed.  Once the boat was finished I planned never to use epoxy again. But then after a four year remission I had a relapse of insanity and decided I HAD TO build another boat.  Not having completely lost my mind, to avoid the epoxy I seriously considered building in aluminum.  But the more I though about it, I just didn't think I would enjoy the process.  Wood is where my heart is so I discarded the metal idea. 

I decided I would build but keep the epoxy to a very bare minimum.  For me that means using it only to coat the exterior surfaces.   With a few exceptions of critical stress points, all structure has been glued with PL Premium Construction Adhesive.  I know this will be unacceptable to some but my experience with it has been very positive.  Plus, since this is a "framed" boat all structural joints can be backed up with fasteners.  This is different than the Cabin Skiff's "stitch & glue" construction which often depends only on the adhesive.  Bottom line, I didn't feel I had another choice as most other "acceptable" adhesives require 70 degree temperatures which I can not provide during the winter.  Is it a wise choice? Good question.  I'll give you the answer in about 15 years.

But in my mind epoxy was still necessary for some things like glassing the hull, so I needed a way to deal with it.  I had come to the conclusion it is the epoxy fumes that cause me the problem.  So logically, if I could avoid them I might be able to make it work.  But coating a 27' hull requires a lot of epoxy.  And I still have vivid memories of the nasty rash that covered my forearms and face. Not to mention eye lids that cracked and bled.  But the desire to build was strong and the mind was weak.  Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!  Still I decided I had to take some precautions and developed a game plan. So when I do use epoxy I have very strict rules I follow -

#1 -  Only use epoxy when it is warm enough outside to ventilate my shop. The 36" exhaust fan runs 24 hr a day for at least a week after a major epoxy application.  Then it is set to run 15 minutes of every hour for another 2 weeks.  This means no epoxy can be used during the cold winter months and I must plan work accordingly.

#2 - I have a large floor stand type fan that blows like a hurricane and it is directed on me at all times when using the stuff.

#3 - I  ALWAYS wear an organic respirator, rubber gloves and long sleeve shirt and pants no matter how hot it is or how small the amount of epoxy.
#4 - Talked my doctor in to prescribing Flonase for me and I use it before each session. Others have reported this can be a big help.
#5 - Once the epoxy is on I exit the building until the next day allowing it time to cure.
#6 - When sanding epoxy I have the sanders hooked up to a vacuum system and wear a dust mask.
Following this procedure I managed to glass the entire hull with only a minor reaction.  In fact, it gave me the confidence to use epoxy to coat the exterior MDO superstructure which I completed in the spring of 08 (minus the cabin top which is not yet been installed.)  To be honest though,  in my opinion, all the above steps - with the exception of the Flonase - should be practiced by everyone using epoxy.  No, you may not have a problem now but remember I didn't at first either.  It seems that continued exposure can gradually allow problems to develop.