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Jewelry Industry Pollution

All, The Los Angeles Times carried a front page article today
concerning the shutting down of two Jewelry Manufacturing firms in a
building within the downtown jewelry district. The event may signal
the beginning of a crack down on the jewelry manufacturing business
in Los Angeles and may portend similar actions in other areas of the
United States.

According to the article, the Los Angeles jewelry manufacturing
district is the second biggest in the United States and employs
approximately fifteen thousand workers in 35 to 40 buildings.

The California Environmental Protection Agency cited the fact that
heavy metal contamination was evident in air and dust samples in two
of the tenants of the building which is inhabited by 120 jewelry
industry related tenants. The article suggests that any of the many
buildings involved in the shut down area could be similarly affected
and that most of them may have to install pollution control devices
before compliance will enable them to continue operations.

The only reason that I am bringing this article to the attention of
Orchidians is that it may portend the future for many of us. For
those of us who are operating in similar venues, it may mean that we
should anticipate the pollution restrictions that may be forthcoming
and, for those of us who are operating as small time semi-urban or
rural manufacturers, it may mean that our vocation may eventually
come under the scrutiny of governmental controls. On a more practical
level, a wider publicity of the environmental implications of our
endeavours might mean that landlords would become leary of our
activities. Each of us will have to come to conclusions that affect
our own circumstances. One of the realities that causes me to be
concerned is the fact that, in many cases of contemporary pollution
analysis, levels of contamination are often measured in billionths.
And, of course, it also frightens me when I think about the
propensity of bureaucrats to justify their jobs by creating
unjustifiable alarms.

I would never take issue with the fact that we should all make every
effort to avoid enrironmental depradation, but I also recognize the
fact that overzealous bureaucrats often ignore fact in order to
perpetuate their jobs.

Probably the most effective way of dealing with the problem might be
that of recognizing the fact that our industry DOES involve the use
of potentially threatening substances and that we should make every
effort to prevent irresponsible pollution.

More importantly, it behooves us to inform ourselves as to what the
exposure means.Unfortunately, when it comes to interpreting the
health hazards of exposure to various substances, there is very
little agreement amongst the so-called experts as to what is is bad
and what is acceptable…the fact of the matter is that we are
all at substantial risk from living in increasingly urbanized
environments and that pollution is no longer a local problem. (
Recent satellite observations of smog originating in China showed its
drifting over California ) Food for thought…Ron @ Mills Gem,
Los Osos, CA

In San Francisco we installed a evaporator to collect and boil down
the liquid waste from our mass finishing equipment because it
contained silver which the city sewer folks consider a “heavy metal
pollutant” The terminology of what is and is not a heavy metal is not
very precise with some of these bureaucratic types.

However if you have ever been in some of these manufacturing shops

it is appalling the way the employees health is treated much less the
external environment (before you flame me I know that there are many
fine facilities that treat their employees well and care for the
environment also). The jewelry industry in LA has been receiving a
lot of attention lately from fire and safety officials and from what
I have heard it is much needed in some businesses. Many of these
facilities are little better than sweat shops. Unfortunately the
small jeweler is going to probably feel some heat from this official
scrutiny of the bad actors.

James Binnion Metal Arts
Phone (510) 533-5108
Toll Free (877) 408 7287
Fax (510) 533-5439


silver is not soluable in water. it cannot be broken down into fewer
parts per million in this environment. this makes it a health hazard -
unlike gold. of course anyone washing gold down the drain could be
considered coocoo…

Hello all and welcome back Daniel Grandi,

A brief comment on Daniel’s discussion about silver and wastewater
treatment. He’s right on the button. Silver is commonly used in
water treatment devices because it kills bacteria. When a wastewater
treatment plant relies on bacteria to accomplish the break- down of
organics, anything that kills or “maims” the little blighters will
reduce or even stop the treatment.

EPA/state agencies definitely watch the plant reports, and can fine
violators. Ergo, your municipality tries very hard to meet those
treatment standards. If the plant is “killed” more than once,
they’ll track down the offender and take action. Personally, I don’t
want the local sewer supervisor knocking at my door… he may be
called “Tiny”, but he looks like an NFL offensive linesman to me!

Good explanation Daniel, Judy in Kansas

Judy M. Willingham, R.S.
Biological and Agricultural Engineering
237 Seaton Hall
Kansas State University
Manhattan KS 66506
(785) 532-2936

Dear Daniel, Thanks for taking the time to give us your take on
jewelry pollution problems. I especially appreciated the disposal
method for investment…very ingenious! As for bombing, I am somewhat
dubious about your perception of the dangers of bombing. I wouldn’t
argue the fact that both cyanide compounds and concentrated hydrogen
peroxide are extremely dangerous substances, but it has always been
my understanding that the reaction ,when the two substances, combined
with hot water, are joined together the resultant violent reaction
neutralizes both chemicals. On the other hand, since the process
takes copper into solution, you certainly wouldn’t want to drink the
result ! Which brings us to another consideration…since you
wrote your take on bombing, another Orcihidian wrote in to say that
he perceived the process of bombing to be one of"a controlled
explosion "which "blasts off " the surface of the object being
treated.! I would have to take exception to the latter in that my
take of the process is that bombing removes copper and its oxides
from the metal being processed and, in the process of doing so,
leaves behind a surface which is pure gold or silver, as the case may
be. Maybe we can get a take on this from John in Z’land. I would
really like to settle this issue once and for all inasmuch I have
been doing “bombing” for thirty years and know of no other process
which will more effectively remove firescale. Granted, it is
potentially very dangerous and, of course, cyanide is a deadly poison
,while concentrated hydrogen peroxide can easily cause spontaneous
combustion when spilled on organic substances. The process is
definitely not to be used by amateurs ! Ron at Mills Gem, Los Osos, CA.

  my take of the process is that bombing removes copper and its
oxides from the metal being processed and, in the process of doing
so, leaves behind a surface which is pure gold or silver, as the
case may be. Maybe we can get a take on this from John in Z'land. 

You rang milord? Well, G’day! Firstly let me say that I have never
done bombing so I’m not talking from experience, and I only know the
method vaguely. I originally thought that it was done by using hot
pickle and pouring in a small amount of hydrogen peroxide. The
peroxide would evolve am amount of gaseous oxygen which would convert
surface copper to cupric oxide. The hot sulphuric acid pickle would
promptly dissolve the copper producing copper sulphate, thus leaving
pure metal on the surface.

Now cyanide solution will dissolve copper AND gold and silver, so it
would remove some of the immediate surface of the alloy. Peroxide
would oxidize any copper, but what happens then Im not sure; I don’t
think cyanide is particularly good at dissolving copper oxide, though
it will do so. Personally I don’t see the necessity for using cyanide,
but then, I’ve never done ‘bombing’. Sorry, but that is the best I
can do. – Cheers now,

John Burgess; @John_Burgess2 of Mapua Nelson NZ

Hi Ron , When you mentioned the following in your reply, You
mentioned that Bombing removes the copper from silver , Leaving pure
silver on the surface.In this You are correct… But,the mere
combination of Cyanide and peroxide Does not nutralize itself… and
should be Neutralized … Also, after we neutralized and adjusted the
PH, we then evaporated the Liquid and then refined the remaining
material. This is were it was found that not only copper was removed
, But quite a bit of silver is also removed along with the copper.
This silver is what causes the problem with sewage systems If all your
evapaorated material is kept when you do gold and silver bombing, you
will recover quite a bit of money quickly if you Do a lot of Bombing

I have stopped using Bombing about 10 years ago when magnetic pin
polishing was developed and when deox silver and deox gold alloys
were developed. If cast properly, these alloys have no firescale . Hope
this helps to explain a bit about my previous post.

Daniel Grandi casting, finishing in gold,silver, brass/bronze and
pewter for the trade

Regarding the widespread ignorance and abuse of toxic metals and
chemicals in our craft/industry, might I suggest the support of an
accredited educational program (along the lines of the GIA’s
Registered Jeweler program) directed at teaching methods of safety,
recycling and disposal ?

I know that both SNAG, AJM and the Manufacturing Jewelers of America
have published articles and booklets concerning trade safety
suggestions. But to date I can think of no in depth studies of the
environmental impact of our industry’s practices nor its remedies.

What do you all think of the idea?

Kim Eric Lilot

Kim, I am compelled to reply. I have long been involved via
rockhounding to the dilemma between being a good and conscious of the
environment individual, vs. a rabid environmentalist who acts first
and mourns losses later.

As a human being I have long opened my home to foreign exchange
students, and know first hand how being culturally unaware creates
great problems.

Jewelry at all socio-economic levels involves peoples from many
countries and therefore many different levels of cultural awareness.
For this instance, educational awareness could be enough to prevent
continued misuse of our mutual environment. This does not at all
cover those in every culture who intend to get away with anything they
can, and once caught exert great expense with legal counsel to get
away with it, all to frequently prevailing.

There are many widespread news stories when penalties are assessed to
those who did indeed get caught and must clean up their messes.
Anyone who tosses a AA battery into the garbage is committing a
criminal act. Who is going to police that? Whistle blowers usually
suffer greater consequences than the perpetrators.

We apparently are trying to be good citizens of the world’s
environment. We now know many things routine in the past are no longer
so, hopefully we have all changed to the new awareness. Who but
ourselves can we vouch for? Me? I buy rechargeable batteries only, I
don’t throw them out hoping for a bit more use, but I do have quite a
few. Hopefully I will remember them the next time I can use the twice
a year city collection. So far I haven’t, but the pile gets larger,
and gas to go to the collection place increases. I struggle to be
honest with myself, but it is an ongoing fight I have not yet lost. I
have a very heavy load with my conscience, does everyone else? This I
cannot answer, but for future inhabitants of our Earth, I sure hope
so. Spinning, Teresa

I think we are missing the point of the question on pollution. This
is not a social issue but a chemical / health one. We have an
industry that uses some nasty chemicals. We in the industry are not
aware of all of the real and potential problems that arise from the
metals and chemicals we use or the way we use them. Pick up a stick
of red rouge and read the product safety on it. Right,
it isn’t there.

Purchase a bottle of plating solution. When you are through with it,
where and how do you dispose of the remainders? If you buy a new
battery for your car, the service station is responsible for the safe
disposal of the old battery. Same for an oil change. Our industry has
a lot of room for improvement in its safety and care for the
environment. I am not talking about mining but just our local
jewelry stores and in a lot of cases, home hobbyist who are creating
an unsafe and unhealthy situation for themselves and their neighbors
because of the lack of available.

We seem to go from no knowledge directly to in-depth research papers
with little in between in the way of practical It is
time that one of the responsible organizations such as the GIA, AGTA,
SNAG, etc pull together a compressive manual on the use and care of
our shop supplies and procedures. Or maybe a combined effort with
all of them involved

Lets worry about what we are doing to ourselves and our immediate
neighbors and when we have solved that problem, we can look to the
global issues.


Don, you are so right on the mark with this. I procure MSDS whenever
I can on whatever products I buy, but am amazed at the number of items
we buy and use that don’t have any info on them. I agree that it
would be wonderful if all the organizations got together and published
a jewelers handbook of safety - we sorely need that. I had excellent
instructors along the way who stressed safety and responsible
disposal, but not everyone had that advantage. Would this be a
project for all of us here at Orchid? If each of us took one item and
researched it and provided to everyone else, we could soon
put together our own book.