Working Smart, Working Safe
with clay is rewarding in many different ways. You can make functional
ware for your kitchen or decorative pieces for your home. When fired,
your work has the potential to last thousands of years, like the
pottery of ancient Native American cultures, China and Greece. Unlike
the ancients, however, we have more knowledge of the materials we
work with. Some ceramic materials can pose definite health risks.
These pages are dedicated to bringing you the information you need
to safely pursue your art for years to come.
push toward greater knowledge of ceramic material safety began a little
over a hundred years ago in response to the appalling numbers of potters
poisoned by their work. For example, there were over 400 cases of lead
poisoning reported in a single year, 1897, among potters working in a
single country (Britain). This trend toward greater safety has continued
to the present day, gathering even more momentum over the last ten to
twenty years. The first and most obvious step is to eliminate use of toxic
materials like lead. Lead has fallen almost completely out of use as a
glaze ingredient, and lead-bearing glazes are prohibited from use in most
educational, medical or institutional settings.
second step is a bit more complex. The problem we face in working with
many ceramic materials may not be the material itself, but its presence
in concentrated form. Consider the example of copper. Copper carbonate
and copper oxides are often used as glaze pigments. In small quantities,
copper is an important component of human body chemistry and crucial
to health. When accidentally inhaled or ingested in large quantities,
however, copper becomes toxic and may create or contribute to long-term
health problems. The question, then, is how to reduce or eliminate the
risk of exposure to copper and similar substances in their concentrated
forms -- which is how we work with them in ceramics.
Clean = Safe
first and most important rule in maintaining materials safety in your
ceramic studio is to keep it clean and well-organized. Here are a
few suggestions. For more information on specific areas of safety
concern, click on the menu entries regarding Safety.
is no substitute for your own diligence!
dry raw materials in sealable containers. Tupperware and Rubbermaid
kitchen canisters work well for this purpose.
all your containers clearly.
which containers (if any) contain hazardous materials.
hazardus materials out of childrens' reach. You might consider making
your work area off-limits to children, or put locks on cabinets and
clean up spills of wet materials before they have a chance to dry
and become dust.
the floor with a wet mop or sponge is much to be preferred over dry
sweeping. Sweeping raises and rescatters dust. If you must sweep the
floor before mopping, wear a dust mask (minimum) or respirator (preferred)
if you can taste dust, you're also inhaling it.
a NIOSH-approved respirator to prevent dust inhalation when measuring,
mixing or working with dry raw materials (like clay or glaze ingredients).
you work with molds, wipe them down and scrape extra slip off the
sides after each use to minimize dust generation.
you work with molds, store them on metal shelves or shelves lined
with contact paper or contact plastic. The abrasive surface of bare
wooden shelves will scrape your molds, creating loose plaster dust.
not eat, drink or smoke while working in your studio. When you need
something to drink, treat that need as an opportunity to take a break
from your work.
your hands thoroughly after handling clay, glaze or dry materials,
before you handle food or drink.
possible, wear "studio clothes" that you don't mind getting
dirty while working in your studio. Keep in mind that some ceramic
or glaze materials may permanently stain your clothes. Wash your studio
clothes separate from the rest of your wardrobe.
Georgies, we urge you to test our products before use to determine their
suitability for your purpose or your project. We also urge you to be conscientious
in determining any risks associated with specific ceramic materials. We
support your efforts by supplying in good faith information, derived from
reliable sources, that we believe to be accurate. The safety information
on these pages is a summary presentation, and not intended to be exhaustive
in detail. If you have specific questions or concerns, we would be happy
to supply further information on request.