Pregnancy and ventillation in studio

I am 5 months pregnant and think i should get some sort of
ventilation or air purifier for my studio. Does anyone know of any
suppliers or have any recommendations? I have around $600 to spend.
Are the polishing compounds dangerous??


Laura Jackson
Laura J. Designs

Hi Laura,

It all depends what you work with. If you don’t do repairs or use old
solder, and do not come in contact with lead, cadmium then you should
be pretty good. As well you should make sure you avoid skin contact
with borax (flux) as that can be hazardous for the fetus.


I’m sure you’re going to hear more about this from others but, from
the day you knew you were pregnant you should have started wearing a
mask of some sort all the time. The higher the level of toxins/dust
it protects you from the better. Any serious ventilation system is
going to cost way more than $600 and air purifiers are nice, but I
always doubt the veracity of their claims, particularly since most
are not designed for use around the types of things we work with. My
former employee wore a mask from the first month she was pregnant.
No problems with either her pregnancy or the beautiful girl she had,
but I got her a fairly heavy duty one to wear. Not always comfortable
but everything you breathe in goes to the little one too.

Daniel R. Spirer, G.G.
Daniel R. Spirer Jewelers, LLC
1780 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge, MA 02140

Conratulation Laura,

I hope it all goes well for you. The biggest thing to worry about is
fat soluble chemicals, such as solvents, paint and laquer thinners
and that sort of thing. Very bad for pregnant women! Soldering fumes
are also bad, for you and the baby. Buffing componds, or more
specifically, the dust from them, is not good for you to breathe,
but it is not going to cross the placenta and poison your baby. It is
more important for you avoid them to stay healthy so that your baby
is surronded by a heathy mother.

If you are most worried about polishing dust, a dust collector
should be your first line of defense. I have several used ones that I
aquired when I bought out a dental casting lab, which I would be glad
to sell you (or anyone else) if they seem like they are right for
your situation.

Stephen Walker
Andover, NY

I switched to Fabulustre for polishing. Someone told me it was


Polishing should be done well ventilated whether one is pregnant or
not. A lot of the polishing compounds have really nasty
(carcinogenic?) stuff in them that is not good for anyone’s health.
Additionally, I know some jewelers who wear a mask at the polishing
wheel even though it is ventilated. There are some very good
suggestions for ventilating benches and studios in the archives. As
mentioned recently, 3M makes a lot of polishing lathe alternatives,
such as their multi-colored bristle brushes. (Tip - make sure those
brushes are spinning the correct way, and not backwards - makes a big

Also, I wear a “surgeon-style” mask when I’m polishing or using
emery/rubber wheels, etc at the bench with the flexshaft. I can’t say
for sure if they are as effective as the regular 3M style safety
masks that all the catalogs sell, but the surgeon style masks are
infinitely more comfortable, prompting me to wear them more often
throughout the course of the day. (Hopefully protecting my lungs a
little more, and keeping my nasal passages a little cleaner…) I
found a box of 25 at WalGreens for about $9, but you can probably
find them online or through medical supply outlets for less. (Or if
your brother is a dentist like mine - I also get leftover tools for
wax carving!) They are the rectangular style masks with a little wire
at the top for bending over the nose bridge and then a loop on each
side to go around the ear. Hope that helps.

Best, Holly.

Hi Laura,

Congratulations on your pregnancy!

When i was pregnant i stayed away from any work with metal that
required soldering and polishing. I believed that air purifier will
not help. I found someone to do sample work for me. This actually
worked out for me really well for a future work.

Take care,

Hi Laura! I’m usually not one to respond to many of the Ganoksin
post ings, but I couldn’t pass on yours: EVERYTHING IN THE STUDIO IS
TOXIC !!! Seriously, compounds get inhaled into your lungs, never to
be removed, as well as the fine abrasive dust and particles cast off
from flex-shaft bits. Inhaling acidic Pickle fumes, acetylene fumes,
liver of sulfur… not to mention that your skin is completely
made up of pores, meant to absorb, and they absolutely do- epoxy,
buffing compound, charcoal, liver of sulfur, etc., whatever you
touch, even if we’re talking microscopic levels, it still enters
your body and potentially your bloodstream and cells, causing who
knows what in the long run, or short run. In myhumble opinion, none
of it is worth the risk of causing unintentional harm to your
developing baby. I graduated college with my BFA, and within 6monhs
was pregnant with my first child, unexpectedly, and despite my
natural urge to be in the studio working with metal at all times, I
ultimately decided that I would take a 9 month sabatical, just to be
sure (realistically, though, 9 months became more like 18, but
surprisingly being deprived of my passion to create jewelry actually
strengthened my designs and intensified my creative focus, which was
such a gift after the long wait). It seems all too often that
activities that we’ve always done without much thought turn out to
be seriously hazardous to our health, after years of exposure.
Whatever you choose for yourself and your baby, just be exceptionally
mindful, with lots of fresh air and caution.

Good luck to you, Laura, and may your journey be amazing…


As well you should make sure you avoid skin contact with borax
(flux) as that can be hazardous for the fetus. 

Is that so? I just had a good look at my box of 20 Mule Team (R)
borax laundry booster and there are no cautions or hazard warnings
on it at all! I know that the borax based fluxes that contain
fluorides are bad, but it is the fluorides that we have been warned
about rather than the base. Could you please clarify? If straight
borax is a problem I would like to know about it as I use it
frequently and my wife had plenty of contact with it during multiple

Stephen Walker

Well now that 56he fear mongers have had their say I will just add a
couple of cents of common sense.

  1. I don’t give a damm how cancer causing a chemical / product
    is… you cannot directly compare apples to oranges, or in this case
    carcinogenic toxicity to tetragenic toxicity. Ditto for human
    toxicity versus fetal toxicity.

  2. The fetus is most susceptible to damage in the first trimester by
    your own statement you are already past that point. Given that I
    suspect any changes come in the too late / too little category.

However if you are really serious about it the first step is to
obtain MSDS sheets for all the various products you have use. Any
that are acutely tetragenic will have the on the MSDS

Next take your list of “suspects” and go on line and use tools such
as goggle to search on tetragenic and whatever chemical / product you
are concerned about to find more However use quality
sources of not sites like


  • not a real site, just an example (note to Orchid editors, yes I
    know it is not a real site so don’t bother testing it or making a
    short URL, it is being used as an example of the stupid sites that do

Along the same lines when I read oh I changed from product a to b
because someone told me it is or might be “non-toxic” well the safe
thing to do is to get the MSDS for both products and compare.

Remember women have worked in conditions much worse than a modern
Jewelry studio and borne healthy children in the past, rule 1: don’t
panic and take things logically.


PS for non native English speakers I include the following
definition: Tetragenic : Any substance or agent that is capable of
interfering with normal embryonic development and can produce
non-heritable birth defects. Tetragenic substances are most often
radiation or chemicals.

PPS I especially support the comments of Stephen Walker, as a
reasoned well balanced response


I switched to Fabulustre for polishing. Someone told me it was

Wear a mask, or use a dust system anyway, it is the fine dust which
is harmful. Not short term but long term, and when it occurs, there
is no help.


3M makes a lot of polishing lathe alternatives, such as their
multi-colored bristle brushes. 

The small version of these, for the flex shaft, come with a sticker
saying they are known to cause birth defects (in the state of

Helping You Make Your Best Impression in Clay


Polishing compounds can definitely be contaminants; they contain
products that are known carcinogens. While those may or may not cross
the placental barrier, you should still be protecting yourself so
your baby has a healthy mommy who is around for a long time.

There are many things which can be inhaled or absorbed through skin
contact in the jewelry lab. When you’re pregnant or any other time,
you need to take appropriate precautions to minimize your exposure.
Those precautions, however, can be pretty simple:

  1. Buy yourself an N-95 rated personal respirator. They are a few
    dollars in the cheapest disposable version, available at any good
    hardware or home-depot type store. You can also get higher priced,
    more permanent ones with replacement cartridges. The key is that they
    are appropriately rated. The 95 means that it filters 95% of
    particulate matter (solid and liquid) from the air. The “N”
    designation means that it is NOT rated for oil-based particulates. It
    can be used until it is thoroughly dirty (no specific time limit).

If you have oil-based particulates in the shop, you’d look for an
R-95 or P-95 designation. However, the R respirators can only be used
for 8 hours each before being discarded. P’s last longer but still
have an “expiration” on them.

There are also 99% and 99.97% filter efficiency respirators that are
used for highly toxic environments, firefighters and the like.
However, they pretty much have to have a clean air supply attached to
them and are impractical (and unnecessary) for studio use.

If you choose a surgical style mask, there are some that are N-95
rated… just be sure to look. They are noted as “respirators” not as
“nuisance dust masks” or the like.

  1. Wear chemical-resistant gloves, like surgical gloves, made of
    latex or nitrile to help minimize absorption of chemicals through
    your pores. Obviously, you shouldn’t wear them during hazardous tasks
    like polishing or soldering, where the glove adds a danger, but you
    definitely can during regular bench-work, pickling cleanup, mixing
    investment, etc.

  2. Good ventilation in the shop is also a must… this might involve
    fresh air being brought in via fan (positive pressure) while
    contamination is sucked out through an exhaust fan (negative
    pressure). If you have a woodworker’s shop near you, they can be a
    great source of idea for how to approach flexible exhaust systems.
    (Check out Penn State Industries’ catalog for some good ideas, for
    example.) Ventilation, however, is not the same as filtration.
    Ventilation simply is a measure of air flow and exchange, while
    filtration (HEPA is the gold-standard in use today) actually removes
    contaminants from the air. In reality, a combination of the two is

Congratulations and good health to you and your baby!

Karen Goeller
No Limitations Designs
Hand-made, one-of-a-kind jewelry

Hi Stephen,

Is that so? I just had a good look at my box of 20 Mule Team (R)
borax laundry booster and there are no cautions or hazard warnings
on it at all! 

Well it has been a few years since I wrote the Safety book, but i
did come across that borax can be a mutagen. A quick scan
online for ‘borax and mutagen’ pulled up a series of articles that
said its effects as a mutagen were weak or not much to worry about,
however msds’s like this one

mention it has been suspect…


from the day you knew you were pregnant you should have started
wearing a mask of some sort all the time. 

A comment on masks. If you think you have to wear one there is
something drastically wrong with your processes and or your
ventilation system. Change your system, or how you do things, so you
don’t think you need a mask. Whatever you are scared of will still be
in your studio when you take the mask off…

A dust mask, one of those paper ones is not a problem, but heavier
masks are not recommended for extended use by pregnant people,
elderly, those with heart and lung problems. The reason is that the
extra effort to breathe stresses the heart and body systems



It’s really good to know that there’s a recommendation regarding the
masks and stresses on the body. I’ve never seen that info before and
it makes sense.

However, there are situations where I believe that a mask is
necessary, such as mixing investment. Even with excellent
ventilation/filtration, there is still enough investment dust
floating around for a few minutes until it settles and is evacuated
that you really shouldn’t be breathing it. Wearing a mask seems an
appropriate precaution.

I’m also concerned in the case of a larger shared studio, such as a
school studio, where an individual is not in control of the work
processes throughout the room and could be exposed by other people’s
inappropriate choices. That’s one reason why there are certain areas
and times in our school studio where I do require a mask to be
worn… around the polisher and investment, for example.

In your opinion are these unnecessary? We already have a powerful
ventilation system and an excellent vacuum system on the polisher.
I’m not frankly seeing how we can change processes and policies to
completely remove the need for masks in this type of scenario, but
would love suggestions!

Karen Goeller
No Limitations Designs
Hand-made, one-of-a-kind jewelry

I just want to put a HUGE thank you out there to all of you wonderful
Orchidians who have responded to my question regarding pregnancy and
toxicity in the studio. I really appreciate everyone taking the time
to give such specific and in depth answers. I have listened to all of
your advice and will definitely be taking more precautions. thanks so
much again!!!

Laura Jackson
Laura J. Designs

A comment on masks. If you think you have to wear one there is
something drastically wrong with your processes and or your
ventilation system. 

I have to agree with Charles. The only times I use a mask is when I
am cleaning the buffing room, or when I am mixing investment. But I
will say that since this discussion began I did buy some better
quality disposable masks.

Regarding the paranoia surrounding exposure to possibly harmful
substances: I have a new apprentice who did some casting at school,
but her class was not allowed to mix the investment because it was
considered too hazerdous by her instructor. What is up with that? Are
the facillaties so inadequet that it cannot be done without creating
an unacceptable level of dust? Or is it (more likely) that the
instructor has an exaggerated idea of the danger? In either case, why
bother teaching the process if you are not going to let the students
learn and practice doing it safely? I am afraid that we have a
culture that has grown so suspicious of chemicals that some of us are
living in fear that disproportionate to actual risks. Many people who
are in the arts have the attitude that we are somehow exempt from
learning about science and thinking scientifically. But health risks
are a very scientific subject. Good ventillation and workshop
hygiene are important, but you have to keep it real. Fire is
dangerous. It can kill you or hurt you. I solder almost every day and
heat my house with a wood stove. Most people can understand how to
use fire safely. Chemical risks are a little harder to understand.
People naturally fear what they don’t know. So rather than live in
fear, or avoid the benefits of materials that are very useful, learn
about the subject and fact check what your hear or read. Even the
most dangerous materials can be handled safely under the right
conditions and some of the safest materials can be dangerous if they
are abused.

Stephen Walker


Out comes my wellness side. I have a high awareness of what is in
our environment.

There are a lot of things that we use that rarely causes people
problems. However, a lot of what is used to clean (or to make suds,
etc.) do create some issues.

Below is the info…anything listed with toxnet has some sort of
toxicity. That said, jewelers are around much more toxic compounds.
If you worry, check there. About anything, really. Then make a
decision based on not heresay, rumors, or

I don’t recommend borax being heated without a mask on for people
with any allergies. I’ve developed allergies that way (chlorine in a
hot tub…now I’m allergic to chlorine and cannot take a shower or
use plain water unless it’s specially filtered). But as a flux, borax
would probably be okay because of the amounts. (don’t use if you have
allergies or lung issues of any kind.)

I only had a quick glance, but nothing said it was tetragenic (sp).
Then again…that just means it was tested / proven on pregnant
women. Some things are assumed non-tetragenic because they haven’t
been proven to be (that means they still could be, so be aware).
Anything that goes into your body affects it…from any orifice and
any part of your skin (more prolonged exposure). If you don’t believe
me, take one shoe and sock off and place a slice of onion on your
foot. You’ll taste it in a short time.

That said, I still use chemicals in this work, I rarely wear a
breathing mask…it only works if you use it until you leave the room
or the room air is circulated out the door, but I try to minimize the
risk of exposure based on info I find at toxnet and additional

None of what I say should be construed as medical advice. I am not a
doctor, nor do I play one on tv. :slight_smile:

The more relevant bits from toxnet are first in the toxnet info


HUMAN EXPOSURE STUDIES The incidence of respiratory symptoms,
pulmonary function, and abnormalities of chest radiographs to
estimated exposures of borax dust was studied in 629 actively
employed borax workers. The subjects, who had worked in this
field for at least 5 years, were interviewed to obtain
on persistent respiratory symptoms and smoking
habits. Occupational histories were reviewed to assess
occupational exposure, and pulmonary function tests and chest
radiographs were performed. Estimated exposure ranged from 1.1 to
14.6 mg/cu m. Symptoms of acute respiratory irritation such as
dryness of the mouth, nose, or throat, dry cough, nose bleeds,
sore throat, productive cough, shortness of breath, and chest
tightness were related to exposure of 4.0 mg/cu m or more.
Symptoms of persistent respiratory irritation meeting the
definition of chronic simple bronchitis were related to exposure
among nonsmokers. Radiographic abnormalities were uncommon and
were not related to dust exposure. /Data suggests/ that borax
dust appears to act as a simple respiratory irritant. [Garabrant
DH et al; British J Ind Med 42 (12): 831-37 (1985) ]

/SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS/ Workers industrially exposed to borax often
suffer from chronic eczema. Long-term exposure to borax dust may
lead to inflammations of the mucous membranes of the airways
(bronchitis, laryngitis) and to conjunctivitis. [International
Labour Office. Encyclopedia of Occupational Health and Safety.
Vols. I&II. Geneva, Switzerland: International Labour Office,
1983., p. 320]

/OTHER TOXICITY INFORMATION/ Fatal doses for humans are
variously estimated to be 5 to 6 g for children and 10 to 25 g
for adults. [Clayton, G. D. and F. E. Clayton (eds.). Patty's
Industrial Hygiene and Toxicology: Volume 2A, 2B, 2C: Toxicology.
3rd ed. New York: John Wiley Sons, 1981-1982., p. 3059]

/OTHER TOXICITY INFORMATION/ Borax and boric acid used in
powders and ointments have resulted in serious poisonings and
death. [Seiler, H.G., H. Sigel and A. Sigel (eds.). Handbook on
the Toxicity of Inorganic Compounds. New York, NY: Marcel Dekker,
Inc. 1988., p. 135]

Skin, Eye and Respiratory Irritations: 

... Borax... /is an irritant/... when in contact with skin and
mucous membranes of the eyes, nose and other sites in the
respiratory tract.... [American Conference of Governmental
Industrial Hygienists. Documentation of Threshold Limit Values
for Chemical Substances and Physical Agents and Biological
Exposure Indices for 2001. Cincinnati, OH. 2001., p. 1]

... May produce irritation of the nasal mucous membranes, the
respiratory tract, and eyes. /Boron compounds/ [Sittig, M.
Handbook of Toxic and Hazardous Chemicals and Carcinogens, 1985.
2nd ed. Park Ridge, NJ: Noyes Data Corporation, 1985., p.

/CASE REPORTS/ Occupational exposure for 6 years to a soap
powder containing 78.6% sodium borate resulted in hair-loss in
one man. The patient was advised to avoid all contact with the
soap powder, and subsequently, hair loss "subsided" and hair
growth returned "more or less" to normal. [Christian M, ed; J
American College of Toxicology 2 (7): 87-125 (1983) ]

/SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS/ Ingestion of 5 to 10 g by young children
can cause severe vomiting, diarrhea, shock and death. [The Merck
Index. 10th ed. Rahway, New Jersey: Merck Co., Inc., 1983., p.

/SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS/ /Effects from/ ingestion /include/
abdominal pain, diarrhea, headache, nausea, vomiting, weakness,
convulsions. [IPCS, CEC; International Chemical Safety Card on
Borax. (April 1997). Available from as of May
18, 2005. ]

(Okay, this is a WEIRD one, and I didn’t feel like checking to see
if they realized in the study that honey should NOT be given to
infants, and don’t know WHY borax was given…but it’s there.)

/CASE REPORTS/ A case-series report of seven infants (aged 6-16
weeks) who used pacifiers coated with a borax and honey mixture
for 4-10 weeks concluded that exposures ranged from 12 to 90 g,
with a very crudely estimated average daily ingestion of 18-56
mg of boron per kg of body weight. Toxicity was manifested by
generalized or alternating focal seizure disorders,
irritability, and gastrointestinal disturbances. Although infants
appear to be more sensitive than adults to boron compounds,
lethal doses are not well documented in the literature. [WHO;
Boron in Drinking-water: Background document for development of
WHO Guidelines for Drinking-water Quality (WHO/SDE/WSH/03.04/54).
Available from as of
May 9, 2005. ]

The you found seems to talk of dust inhalation,
ingestion, etc but I didn’t notice anything about inhaling fumes from
burning borax or boric acid. Does anyone know what effects our using
such boron compounds as a flux has on the human body?