by Paul Wilson

I had contacted Monona Rossol about safety recently via a link I found at the IGGA website. She is an industrial hygienist on the Advisory Board, International Guild of Glass Artists, for Arts, Crafts and Theater Safety.

I was somewhat concerned about silicosis from cutting glass as well as lead fumes from soldering.

Her answer was that there is little dust that comes from scoring and breaking glass (although you want to minimize the dust anyway).

That's not the worst problem, when you grind glass, there is dust, powder and a wet mist which is easily inhaled and also leaves a harmful residue behind. I know there is a slurry from the ground glass and water that gets slung around when I grind. It is so conspicuous that there are specially made shields to go around your grinder to keep your shop clean. I did not know about the mist I was creating. In this mist are other things besides sand. You will find lead, arsenic, cadmium, manganese and a host of other things you don't want to breath or ingest. These metals and additives are used to change the characteristics of the glass and to add color.

When you solder, part of the lead and tin is vaporized into gas. The lead part is so bad it has it's own technical name "lead fume." Lead fume sticks to your hair, your clothes and your skin as well as our lungs. The more you get, the worse it is for you. Children are particularly at risk from lead. We all know the dangers of lead paint.

Then there is flux. All fluxes are acids which allows the metals to bind. Which flux is the safest to buy, I don't know. I know it burns my eyes and smells to high heaven when I get downwind of my own soldering and I am using the newer cleaner water based flux. (if this is the good stuff, what's the TRULY stinky stuff like???)

While talking to Jim, a local glass dealer and artist of over 50 years, I found out there are a couple other danger areas too. He told me the easiest way to get lead poisoning was not to wash your hands after soldering. He rubbed his fingers across a piece of solder and showed me his blackened fingers. Every time we solder, we are handling the solder as we pull it off the roll. Then we go eat a sandwich and if we did not really scrub our hands well before lunch , we took in a little lead and tin.

Finally there is the vacuum cleaner, which ought to be great for cleaning up, right? Well it sucks up the big chunks, but the wee little pieces you can't see go right through the bag and get airborne unless you have the fancy vac used on copier machines. Anyway, this airborne mass of teeny particles is not good to breath.

Those folks that want to heat glass for fusing, slumping, bead making, glass blowing etc. are creating their own dangerous gasses. So are the folks that want to sandblast, carve, etch or perform other acts of torture on unsuspecting glass.

In Monona's message she said that doing a little stained glass in a classroom or studio probably won't raise any blood lead level above the danger zone, but prolonged exposure is another matter. Dust is available 24 hours a day in your home. If you plan to do stained glass much you need to take precautions. This means that to enjoy glass, and keep on enjoying it, we must take some precautions.

If you have a garage studio like many of us do, open all the doors and windows, add a fan if necessary. If you have a hobby room inside your house, you might want to add some type of closed ventilation system, a 20" fan in the window would be the minimum for a hobbyist. Professionals should consider a professional grade breathing device or air filtration system.

When cleaning up your area after cutting and grinding, you probably want to use a sponge and water. Dry cleanup will create a lot of harmful dust. It would not hurt to use gloves during the cleanup to keep the tiny shards of glass from digging into you and keep the heavy metals off your skin.

Then you have to clean up yourself. Don't forget to wash your hands all the way to the elbows. I know that when I rub my hand across the back of my forearm after several hours of work that I can feel little pieces of glass. Take a shower soon after working with glass. Be sure to double shampoo your hair and scrub your face well too. A few precautions, a little different way of doing things and you should be able to enjoy glass indefinitely.

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last updated 23 Aug'99
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