Polymer clay dangers

I don’t know if there are Orchidians using polymer clay, but just in

I am house sitting for a couple of potters and enjoying all their
back issues of Clay Times (I think this could be a model for the
jewelry magazine many Orchidians would like to be getting in the
mail). In the Jan/Feb 2001 issue, there is a pretty scary article
that refers to a study done by the Vermont Public Interest Research
Group (VPIRG). You can look at the latter here:


When I was making ceramic jewelry components, polymer clay people
were always telling me that I was an idiot, because the things I was
trying to do would have been so much easier in plastic. All I could
say was, if it’s toxic when you accidentally turn your oven up too
high, why are you sure you aren’t breathing something toxic under
normal conditions–or absorbing it through your skin? Well, I guess
it was one of those times when my intuition may actually have been
working, because it looks like that’s indeed what happens.

Lisa Orlando
Aphrodite’s Ornaments
Elk, CA

(in the Mendocino area, where I’m now looking for a rental of my
own–if you know anyone around here who might have a lead, I’d love
to know. Thanks!)

Lisa’s post on polymer clay dangers reminded me of a question I
recently wondered about. You know that when you work in a field like
ours, you’re gonna be exposed to a lot of things that can create
toxins in your body, no matter how careful you are.

So what happens to those of you who work a lot in PMC? You’d think
those microscopic bits of silver or gold would have to rub into your
palms and fingertips to some extent. It just seems like the more you
do it, the more it would get into your system. No problem for those
who don’t use it much, or who don’t have an overworked liver
already, but what about the others?

Hope I don’t sound like an alarmist (!), but since it’s a relatively
new technique, I wondered if any knowledgeable Orchidians have
looked into this…

Cindy Crounse
Refined Designs

    So what happens to those of you who work a lot in PMC? You'd
think those microscopic bits of silver or gold would have to rub
into your palms and fingertips to some extent. 

Here’s my unscientific answer:

most metalsmithing tools, techniques and consumables are more
dangerous than most PMC related tools, techniques and consumables.

I just bought a new box of abrasive wheels from 3M that I was
excited about, and they have a scary warning that they cause cancer
and are dangerous to pregnant women and some other class of people.
(Okay, now that I’ve said that, everyone’s going to ask which
product. 3M Radial Bristles. The new ones. The warning is a State
of California required warning.)

Let’s see, in metalsmithing, we might easily encounter in a shop:

-boric acid and borax
-lots of abrasive wheels with goodness knows what in them
-polishes, perhaps some with cadnium
-maybe a little nitric acid
-and if we’re lucky, maybe even some cyanide for “bombing”

Here’s what we use with metal clay:

-olive oil
-playing cards
-plastic and steel tools
-maybe a little Teflon and silicone too

(Yes, yes, if the metal clay artist also solders, there will be some
overlap of the two lists.)

It seems to me that some of the more dangerous things in
metalsmithing are airborne particles that we might breathe.

If the worst thing that happens with metal clay is that some absorbs
through our skin, I’m not too worried about that. We recently had
the discussion about the benefits/dangers of colloidal silver, and
surely the amount of silver I absorb through my skin (if any) is
less than some other people are drinking on purpose.

Further, if you’re being careful, you’re not going to get a lot of
silver on your skin anyway.

When firing metal clay, there are various choices for support
materials that are more or less dangerous. That’s a whole different
conversation. Here’s my short answer: I use vermiculite, avoid
fiber blanket, never use alumina hydrate. Please don’t tell me
about the dangers of vermiculite. I’ve made an informed decision
and feel this is the best option for me.

Elaine Luther
Metalsmith, Certified PMC Instructor
Hard to Find Tools for Metal Clay