I have recently gotten back into jewelry making and am polishing
on the wheel with tripoli and then rouge...I wear the white
'doctors' mask with the little metal over the nose...and I still
have the rouge residue in my nose (after I blow it), so I can't
imagine how much has gotten into my lungs and was wondering how
harmful that is and what kind of face mask I should use!!??
None of the polishing compounds, inhaled, are good for you. The
silica based ones may be worse, but in general, you want to not be
breathing lots of the stuff. You nose actually does block a fair bit.
That’s part of it’s job, after all, to filter the air you breath. But
that doesn’t affect what you inhale through your mouth, and some will
still get past your nose. So then. First, makes sure whatever mask
you use actually fits. There are a number of types. Any of the N95
masks are capable of filtering these materials, but you need it to
fit well, and apparently, the ones you’re using don’t. The simple
surgical doctors masks often aren’t well sealed, being more intended
to stop what you might cough from getting away. The 3M N95
particulate masks come in several styles, some with added valves to
make breathing a bit easier and reduce things like fogging your
glasses… But try several types to find one that fits. They fit
different people’s faces differently, so I don’t know that any one
single type would fit everyone.
Also, seriously consider getting a polishing setup equipped with a
dust collector and a face shield. The shield (those simple plexiglass
sheets sitting between your face and the wheel with many better
quality machines) stop a lot of the compound from getting anywhere
near your face in the first place, as well as improving the air flow
from the suction fans. If you cannot afford a commercially made
polishing machine with it’s dust collecting fans, etc, you can build
something almost as effective with plywood, some inventiveness, and
a shop vac for the suction. Get a suitable fine filter for the shop
vac so it actually stops the fine stuff instead of just blowing it
back into the room.
Far better than figuring what mask fits you best is keeping the
compound from ever getting that close to your face in the first
place. That’s the reason for the proper polishing machine setups, be
it commercial or home made. If, when you’re done pollishing, you look
in the mirror and find your face covered in compound, then you need
to be quite careful that your mask fits well, and should consider
what you can do to reduce that exposure.
As to actual safety of the compounds, well, it’s not like they’re
instantly toxic. They’re not. Most are pretty benign. But that is in
terms of on your skin. None of these dusts are good to breath, even
if they happen to be things your lungs can eliminate over time. Some,
like the silica based tripoli and white diamond, might offer some of
the risks of crystaline silica flour, such as found in casting
investment. Depending on the nature of the material, sometimes the
stuff occurs as rather sharp tiny (invisible) crystals which the
lungs cannot get rid of. The result, after long term chronic
exposure, is called silicosis. It does usually require chronic
exposure over time, rather than a single little bit once upon a time.
But still, a risk to avoid. Check the MSDS sheets for the polishing
compounds you use for specific on each. But as I said,
rather than trying to figure out which are safe to breath, instead
try to arrange it so you’re not breathing any of them in on any sort
of regular basis.
Oh, and in addtiion to looking in the mirror at your face, look at
the INSIDE of the mask when you’re done working with it. It should
remain clean. If it’s not, it’s not fitting well enough.
Hope that helps.