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safety with clay...

updated wed 28 jan 98


James Houck on tue 27 jan 98

Hi everyone. I am new to ceramics but have a degree in environmental
health, and I have worked as an industrial hygienist. I have been
following the discussion on safety with interest. I have decided to
input whatever I can to help... First of all, glaze and slip dust is
much more dangerous than road's the size that makes a
difference. A particle of dust less than 10 microns in diameter will
not be stopped by the nosehairs or windpipe, it is small enough to reach
the inner alveoli in the lungs and cause damage. (Silicosis, if it's
glass, asbestosis if it's asbestos, you get the picture.) In addition,
many of the glazes used in ceramics have heavy metals in them such as
lead, cadmium, etc. that can cause toxicity in the body, through skin
absorption, inhalation and ingestion. These metals can be stored in
body fat and the chronic (long-term) effects may not be noticed for
years. I highly recommend adequate ventilation in your studio, not just
while mixing glazes, but constantly. The finest particles are those
that will remain suspended in the air the longest, and may not settle on
surfaces where they can't be breathed. Keeping the studio clean is very
important, but cleaning a surface won't reach particles suspended in the
air. I don't mean to seem like an alarmist but I have done many air
quality studies and it's always that which can't be seen that is the
most dangerous. And, washing clothes every day should be a habit as
well, although I know this is costly and time-consuming. Try not to
wash work clothes in with other clothes, because the fine dust can just
get dispersed among your whole family's clothes and then everyone gets
to breathe lead equally...definitely not something you want your kids
breathing. I will write more on studio safety as time goes on, but
suffice it to say for now that you cannot be too careful when dealing
with not only heavy metals, but also fine dusts and particulate. Better
safe than sorry!

Claudia Houck