Abalone Toxicity

Hi, I have come across some beautiful abalone shells recently and I’m
trying to drill a hole in them for a PVC tube. I came across some
very old emails in the egroups on this subject but I can’t get any
response from the individuals that wrote them. I have two questions:
How toxic and dangerous is this and what sort of tool do I use? ANy
that you could give me would be useful. Thanks, Tanya
Best Please respond to my email address: bestt@cascadeng.com

Hi: I used to work with abalone and yes it can make you very
sick…the best way to deal with it is under running water…a flex
shat and and grinding wheels ( mizzey heatless) diamond and carbide
will work well, waterproof sanding disc will work well also, object
is to not breath the dust…and I suggest using a mask when working in
water flow…a little messy but it is better than suction…
emery to rouge as normal buff… ringman john

Hi Tanya Abalone shell dust is very toxic, possibly causing heart
arrhythmia and other organic damage. The dust contains a toxic
substance the body mistakes as sugar and thus allows passage to
various organs. To protect yourself wear a gas mask, gloves and cover
up with clothing as much as possible (the substance can be absorbed
through the skin!). Cut the abalone under water or with a stream of
water. If I haven’t scared you too much, abalone is a beautiful shell
to cut. I deal in cultured abalone mabe pearls that have a similar
color range.

Tom Tietze

Hi Tanya, Abalone shell is something that most California jewelers
encounter fairly often. The toxicity factor is a bit exagerated. You
can actually drill the stuff with an ordinary high speed steel drill,
but it is advisable to use a fairly slow speed to avoid over-heating
and propagation of airborne dust. The chitinous component of the
shell is the culprit when it comes to toxicity but, I have never had
a problem with it. The trick is to avoid breathing the dust inasmuch
as the chitinous material is very irritating to the lungs. You can
overcome the problem using a disposable respirator mask which is
available at most hardware or paint stores. By the way, abalone is
extremely easy to polish; Zam on a muslin buff will give you a mirror
finish in no time. Ron Mills @ Mills Gem Co. Los Osos, CA.

Hi, Abalone shell is extremely toxic when ground, it can even cause
nausea when you grind it wet. Make sure you use plenty of water and
have a good air flow around you. If you start to feel a bit funny or
get a strange taste in your mouth, stop immediately and get fresh air

  • some people are more sensitive to it then others. The same applies
    to Pau Pau shell.

A diamond bit in a flex shaft will readily cut a hole in the shell,
wet dry silicon carbide paper will take the sharp edges off. There is
a whole article on working abalone shell on my web page -
Island Gem and Rock Homepage - under the shop hints page. You can get
some really nice results - works well for earrings (light) and can be
made into triplets or doublets as well.

Enjoy your abalone - but please be careful!

Cameron Speedie
Island Gem and Rock

Hello, I must concur with Ron. I cut a lot of abalone shell and
actually inhaled my share of dust. Ten years later and I’m still
kickin’. Of course this is not a definitive test. I could suffer long
term effects, but my liver didn’t shrivel up and turn black :wink: Like
any airborne material it is best to avoid its inhalation, but don’t
let this stop you from using abalone. Just work with it wet.