Pregnant woman goes to enameling workshop

Hi everyone, I’m 5 months pregnant. My studio is packed up right now
and while pregnant I haven’t done anything that would expose me to
the chemicals, fumes or dusts associated with working with metal.
BUT, I did just return from a 3-day enameling workshop. The workshop
was so much fun and I loved it, but now I’m worried about lead
exposure. Honestly I didn’t think about it at the time, I probably
should have done more studying up about leaded enamels before I took
the workshop. Nobody in the class woreface masks… We did some
sifting, and I’m sure I inhaled some of the dusts. And I got the
enamel powders on my fingers when sifting, although I washed my
hands each time afterwards. The ventilation was turned on in the room
so the fumes from the kilns were immediately sucked away. Should I be
concerned?? I really regret not doing my research before taking the
class. I should have worn a face mask! But at this point what is done
is done… I read through the archives that the real exposure to lead
is breathing the fumes when the enamel is fired in the kiln, or torch
fired. I also read from the internet that danger mostly comes to the
baby when the mother is exposed to high levels of lead on a regular
basis. Am I overreacting? Or should I be really concerned and bring
it up with my doctor??

Thanks in advance for your comments,
Jennifer Dixon

A simple blood test should show if your lead level is elevated.

Judy Shaw, former EMT

Jennifer, I believe the Enamelist Society funded a thorough study of
lead exposure during enameling. If I remember right, they hired a
professional engineer in the field of hazardous materials to design
the study, take the measurements, and make recommendations. I think
he found that there is really very little exposure. BTW, he did his
measurements at Enamelworks Supply, which has a large stock of leaded
enamels. Coral Shafer, the proprietor, works all day, every day, with
leaded enamels creating her own enamels and packing enamel orders,

If this study is not in the Orchid archives, you can contact the
Enamelist Society at I’m sure they can get you
a copy.

While pregnant I had my lead levels checks a number of times. I
lived in an old house with lead paint sealed under new paint, sifted
enamels almost every day using a mask and medium ventilation and a
lot of my counter enamel had lead in it.

They found my levels to be on the low end of normal. Actually, I
worry more about the other stuff in the enamels.



I also read from the internet that danger mostly comes to the baby
when the mother is exposed to high levels of lead on a regular
basis. Am I overreacting? Or should I be really concerned and
bring it up with my doctor?? 

please stop fretting about lead exposure from your 3 day enamelling
workshop. The amounts you were exposed to were TINY given extractors
and proper hygiene. It sounds as if your tutor was well versed in
health & safety measures.

I know you want the best for your baby but just consider all the
dangers that pregnant women are exposed to in daily life around the
world, and this pales into insignificance.

Ellen Goldman of Holland (who sells lead-free Thompson enamels) told
me once that the cure for lead poisoning is lots of milk and lots of
fresh air - things you are maybe doing anyway.

be happy, reduce anxiety (which may cause increased risk of ADHD in
the child !!!) eat lots of spinach and listen to good music.

Best wishes

Karen, thanks for your comments. I did check on the enamels we used,
some were lead-based, others were lead-free but had a scary comment
on the bottle about cadmium and the health risks if exposed. Yikes!
How come everyone is so afraid of lead exposure but nobody talks
about cadmium?

Thank you Tamizan for your reassuring words. I think I was panicking
initially, but I feel much calmer about it now. You are right, for a
3-day workshop I probably was only exposed minimally and compared to
the risks that a person runs into daily, I should take it into
perspective. AND I’ll be sure to eat my spinach, as long as I can
follow with a bowl of ice cream!

Thanks again,

Jennifer, Even if you used only leaded enamels you have NOTHING to
worry about. After I had been enameling daily, hour after hour for
13 years with no thought to ventilation, my blood lead levels checked
lower than an average person living in a big city.

Marianne Hunter

I also had my blood levels checked when I finally got the word on the
issues with heavy metals and enamels. Normal… after many years of
sifting and firing without proper ventilation. However… my
understanding now is that a check for lead levels in the blood is not
the test that I want. Lead is not stored in the blood (so I am now
told). I think it gets stored in the bone marrow, but I still am
confused so don’t quote me. Proper testing for lead levels in the
body will test either the hair or the urine… maybe both. I have
considered further testing but haven’t found the right doctor or the
right lab. Certainly don’t want the tester to be the provider of the
"cure". It all becomes controversial, and so far, no clear path. And
yes, I do have health problems that might be related to all of the
years of enameling without proper precautions.

I really don’t think Jennifer has to worry about her short exposure
and how it might effect her baby. Again, I am not the expert on this,
except to say that I have a beautiful, perfect daughter who is now
46! I started enameling at 15!. Best for all enamelists to be aware
of the hazards and protect against them. Bottom line… lead,
cadmium, arsenic, etc… not good for us.

Carol Holaday

However.... my understanding now is that a check for lead levels in
the blood is not the test that I want. Lead is not stored in the
blood (so I am now told). 

Mind, wikipedia differs:

“Lead in blood reflects recent exposure. Bone lead measurements are
an indicator of cumulative exposure. While measurements of urinary
lead levels and hair have been used to assess lead exposure, they are
not reliable.”

The mayo clinic only mentions blood testing:

OSHA requirements for lead testing:

Paul Anderson

Lead in toxic levels can be diagnosed via a series of methods- the
body cannot process the metal so it does “store” it with other things
it can bind the lead with. Direct tissue sampling is the way to test
for it- but your search for a doc that will do those tests without
any signs and symptoms are an exercise in futility if you expect your
insurance to cover pre-emptive testing. (Be aware it may as well toss
a red-flag into any insurance policy as a “Pre-Exsisting Condition”-
and claims that may be tied to it later can be denied or your
coverage can be scaled back or in sime instances revoked) The signs
and symptoms are neurological and digestive in origin for most- and
the Liver is the organ that processes and tries to break-down and
process the metals. Any Hepatic or Internal Medicine specialty are
schooled in this testing. A liver biopsy is a true-tissue test- but
bloodwork will be the pre-cursor as well.

-Be careful and use common sense- that will alleviate the majority
of fear- but should you think exposure- and to a toxic level… the
manifestations are likely to come after a period of time
post-compromise of your Hepatic-Neural systems.

-Some fear is healthy- it will keep you aware. Remember that most
toxic-exposures and overdoses occur when the person becomes
complacent with safety- namely their own. Personal responsibility is
what I am advocating- and sensible views of how to protect.

-Lead deposition can rarely be UN-done- although experiments with
chelation therapy have shown promise- but be advised- once the body
has STORED the lead- you have to liberate it back into the systems
within your body to excrete it! Personal choices- it all boils down
to personal choices. I certainly think Lead and other heavy metals
are dangerous- and have a healthy respect for them… best of luck to
everyone in their personal quests for health- and it is good to see
from so many points!

Be safe and enjoy the days!

You can call your local or state health department and ask them
about their lead poisoning prevention programs. You may be eligible
for free screening through one of these. If you live in an area with
lots of old housing (where lead paint chips and flakes) or you are
in an occupation like bridge painting, then I am sure you are
entitled to free testing under occupationaland environmental health

My enameling teacher was pregnant throughout our class (she actually
gave birth a week or two before class ended.) She made sure that she
used a respirator when she used lead enamels, used non-leaded
whenever possible, and had her lead levels checked regularly.

Elizabeth Schechter
RFX Studios

Thanks everyone for your feedback. I do feel reassured that a 3-day
workshop likely did not expose me to the point where I should be
very concerned. I may get a blood test to check lead levels, partly
because of the workshop and partly because we are renovating the
upstairs of our 1870’s house…

Thanks again,
Jennifer Dixon