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Health hazzards of gemcutting


i am a jeweler previously worked on lost wax casting around 13 yrs
back. was not aware of silica danger and did not wear mask.

in between supervised a granite cutter from close proximity on a
couple of occasions.

recently have gone into faceting and want to restart my jewelry
casting again.

i work in a small storeroom converted into a faceting workshop that
has ventilation only from the door. i have faceted 5 beryl
(heliodor) as well as 5 amethyst quartz stones.

i use a drip tank for cutting (on a few occasions forgot to switch
on but did so when i realised it was off)

have gotten a bit of paranoia regarding silicosis. during this time
my sinuses have flared up (i used to have this problem when i used
to handmake jewellery during my college apprentice ship) and have had
a runny nose sinus headache and sore throat also it has been very
cold here making the runny nose worse.

currently i have been diagnosed with adrenal suppression due to

need your advise on wether cutting maybe have had adverse effect on
my lung health and wether i have damaged them.

any info you may be able to give or if you could steer me in the
right direction of someone with the relative experience who may be
able to advise me.

thanking you in advance



if one does not wear respiratory protection when cutting any mineral
of course there will be respiratory consequences.A proper respirator
is one that has the capacity to filter out particulate matter in the
microns- a simple elastic band on fiber mask will not adequately
protect you.Any home store sells a quite good 3M brand respirator (
with cartridges that are replaceable) for under 35 dollars US.Most
jewelry supply vendors sell them also but at an inflated price
compared to home, hardware, or paint stores etc. Yes, they are
cumbersome and uncomfortable but one has to weigh the long term
effects of micro-particles entering your respiratory tract ( even
when dealing with investment you should wear protection- however most
jewelers don’t on any regular basis- that is until they have a
noticeable reaction or complication due to breathing in anything from
solder fumes to particulate matter). So better to take care of your
body from the beginning and simply wear a respirator that does all
the things you need one to do.If you use no solvents ever in your
shop there are some that are bulky and overkill, but the lightweight
3M particulate filtering masks do the job well, and if you note the
hours you use it it makes keeping the cartridges fully functional as
once clogged it is only as good as say tying a bandanna around your
nose and mouth, or using a flimsy paper mask…rer


You have to consider the exposure to the hazard and I do not know of
a lapidary who wouldnt cut and polish with a suitable coolant and
carrier, normally water.

You are generally at a greater risk from legionnaires disease from
the spray from water that has been standing for a while than you are
from dust as the dust doesnt become airborne with proper cleaning
regimes. The body is remarkably good at expelling particulate
detritus from the lungs and nose and there are few that are really
likely to be hazardous unless of a specific particle size. Asbestos
and colloidal silica are the worst but with the silica the problem is
thousands of times wore with dry material.

I never used to use face masks cutting anything that didnt contain
asbestos or massive sulphides and nor did any one else I know and
that was cutting and polishing 8 hours a day. the best way of
reducing the risk of lung disease is to not smoke. People working
with asbestos who didnt smoke rarely got mesothelioma wheras with
smokers the rate was close to 100%.

It is a matter of quantity multiplied by exposure. Hobby faceters
are nevr going to get the level of exposure to make any difference to
their health unless they do things that are spectacularly stupid so
all you need to do is assess your practices. I keep cyanide for
plating but it poses no hazard to me under normal circumstances
because I am aware of what it can do if you do things wrong.

Nick Royall


The volume of stone ground to dust in a faceting operation is tiny
compared to a granite polishing shop, or using casting investment.
Most of this dust will be captured in the splash pan of the machine,
although airborne droplets will dry out and become dust.

The greatest health hazard is old lead alloy laps. It isn’t terribly
dangerous to handle lead, but applying abrasive to it and pressing
it to a hard stone makes a paste of fine lead particles.


I only cab, but never, ever, do any grinding, cutting or polishing
without some sort of lubricant, either water or oil, in the case of
slab saws. I have known, one person that died, due to dry grinding
glass and have another friend who is on oxygen full time due to dry
grinding of malachite. The malachite apparently had some arsenic in
it. Silicosis is a big problem also. Just be careful and wear a mask
or respirator.

Dave Leininger
The Swanky Stone


Respiratory protection is not necessary when operating any of the
modern gem faceting machines. There is no dust in the air during the
cutting operation. Lubricant is always used and the particles are
trapped in that. I have never know a gem faceter to use any sort of
face mask nor respirator.



I disagree completely that no protection is necessary…it is- you
should remember that some of the novices here are using a dremel, and
no doubt hovering directly over their work without a drip system to
lube the mineral material/ rough…it is for them I am highly
recommending at least some particulate mask…Not everyone has “modern
faceting equipment”…I am not speaking to those people that are pro’s
or even intermediate faceters but new, novice lapidarys that are
asking the kinds of questions most frequently posted - and for those
of you who may have professional equipment but little experience in
identifying minerals MANY have toxic elements making up the
specimen/rough so to the novice working with a dremel, hovering over
his or her work in trying to facet a beutiful piece of vanadium,
wulfenite, or lets say, any lead arsenate bearing mineral- I would
certainly hope they would at least put on a paper mask because the
risk isn’t worth it in the long run…I have personally known "
professional " facetters ( that is hobbyists that have been faceting
for more than 50 years in their garages and now teach (or did teach
at one time) facetting because they have titled themselves ‘
professionals’) that didn’t know some of their old laps were asbestos
composition materials and had been breathing in the dust for years,
didn’t smoke, nor work around asbestos but developed
mesothelioma…They too, once they realised what the laps, and some
minerals are composed of now recommend some respiratory
protection…So I suppose it’s purely one’s choice as to wearing a
mask or not, when one doesn’t have pro grade equipment, practically
zero experience in mineral identification or crystallography, and
jewelers ( many of whom do zero facetting and are simply speculating
anyway!!!) tell them it is perfectly ok to try cutting stones without
even the most basic respiratory protection when clearly there are
visible particles in the air…I personally hate wearing respirators,
or even eye protection but I have enough background to know when i’m
doing something potentially harmful to my health and make that call
based on a number of considerations- many novices can’t make those
decisions because they are not informed enough…to those people I
find it irresponsible of anyoine that actually facets stones or
carves them not to at least recommend all the appropriate precautions
available and the reasons why they are important- this forum is to
inform novices right? Professionals, should, of course, be able to
make health related decisions based on experience.When one has no
experience what have they to go on???..rer



are you confusing risk with hazard? The 2 go together but are
separate components to the possible harm to our health. The hazard is
in the nature of the material and the risk is the exposure to it and
can be defined in various ways such as time of exposure. I do not
believe than in a work environment people will be allowed to just set
about anything they feel like doing without any form of prescription
so I cannot accept that there are “workers” carving bits of stone dry
that contain toxic minerals. You cannot legislate against stupidity
so I would be wary of trying to force practices upon the populace
based upon the bahaviour of the wilfully ignorant. Wearing dusk masks
will have no benefit to the user if more general, common sense and
good practice procedures are not followed and people dry cutting
rocks with mechanical tools certainly aren’t following best practice
(you will wreck the tools for starters). Not all lapidaries are
concerned with faceting my work was making specimens for
microscopic study and gem cutting is and was a hobby. The techniques
are the same but the samples infinitely more varied. Largest being
complete sections of a concrete lined tunnel for testing crack
propogation, the smallest being slices cut out of semiconductor
wafer, the wafer being 50 microns (50 millionths of a millimetre)
and the slices being less than 1 micron thick when cut using a
focussed ion beam milling machine. you need an electron microscope
attached to the mill to see the work. Each end of the scale has is
own hazards but the risks are kept to a minimum by designing them out
of the procedures.

I have never come across an asbestos lap, I have used pyrophyllite
laps- these are made of a clay mineral rock that can be heat treated
to harden it. It is used as a fireproof material and has been for
decades, perhaps this is really the material. Can you get
mesothelioma from pyrophyllite or other similar minerals? yes you can
but the risk is very small unless you smoke as well. Smoking is seen
by health professionals as the cause of just about every ill on the
planet at the moment but ignoring that epidemiologial bias built into
their work certain hazards are worse for somkers than non-smokers and
asbestiform type lung disease is one that is about 1000 times worse.
There is a book called "Pyriboles and other asbestiform minerals"
written in the late 1970’s that covered all of this. I did some work
for an ex-student who was a research fellow at Johns Hopkins medical
school into pathways of arsenic into the human body and the results
were very surprising. it is virtually impossible to accidentally get
arsenic poisoning via the environment. This means that it is safe to
build schools on toxic waste dumps after all!!! (no, dont).

Nick Royall