Toxicity in The Studio

Hello everyone!

lately I have been giving a lot of thought as to what exactly it is
I am using on a daily basis…chemicals that is. I have no
ventillation in my studio and although I do minimal soldering I am
starting to wonder if the longterm effects of this could be drastic.
I noticed that on my flux and silver cleaning bottles it states
"This has been known to cause cancer in the state of California",
however it does not tell me what is in it. I often use the silver
cleaner (dipping solution for brightening), and an oxidizing agent.
should I always use a mask when i use these… and when I am
soldering as well?

I was also wondering what one does with old pickle…when i need to
make a new pot, i just dump the old one down the drain along with a
lot of water. Is this really bad to do?? I never went to school for
jewelry design, therefore during my apprenticeship i just watched
the designer who taught me and learned that way… this did not
entail ANY education about chemicals or safety… I just do the same
things I saw her doing. Any info. on this subject matter would be
very useful. I am also planning on getting pregnant within the year
and have heard awful things about the fetus being easliy harmed when
near any of these chemicals. Whatever info you guys have I would love
to hear it.

laura :slight_smile:

Other people may have varying opinions, but I’ll offer what I can
just in case no one else rings in.

I have known people to use an overhead ventalation unit used for
stoves for their soldering needs. There are those that only have a
charcoal folter, then there are those that have a tube that goes to
an outside source (out a window), you are looking for the former. In
an ideal world you wouldn’t be sending the fumes just out into the
environment, but at the minimal you are loking to get the stuff out
of your breathing area, and if you do non-production soldering the
environmental damage is minimal.

The closer the hood is to your work area the better.

Masks, there are those that are chemical masks, they need their
fairly large filters changed about every three months, keep them in a
sealed bag when not in use to prolong the active filters longer.
There are those that pretty much are small discs that catch small
aprticles, fine for trying to stop polishing compounds from entering
your lungs but they do nothing for fumes.

Pickle is an acid, take the pot and put it in your sink, add some
baking soda, it will fizz (don’t breath in the fumes), then it will
settle, add and repeat until it will no longer react (fizz), then
down the sink it goes (not perfect, I don’t know if there’s much in
the way of environmental damage, but as I’ve known the occasional
phot lab to pour silver solution right down the drain, it is much
safer than that… I still can’t believe WalMart employees were told
to do this by their manager when their processing unit had problems…
they could have really damaged the water table, ifthey haven;t

Cleaners that are for home use (like brasso and the like) that are
creams are really stable and don’t give off much in the way of fumes,
but I don’t know what kind of cleaners you use. If you can smell it,
then use it under the $300 dollar fume hood I mention above, and do it
outside or by an open window.

I hope this helps and good luck on being a Mum, may everything go

K. David Woolley


Remember everybody is down stream and gets what you dump in their
water supply.

I wear a lot of protection, there are good paper resperators and then
their are the dust masks type. You don’t need a full chemical
respirator, but I do have one for other types of work that I do.

When you order chemicals get the MSDS sheets for your purchase.


I was also wondering what one does with old pickle… Your safety
questions have to do with what are known as "chronic contaminants."
Chronic contaminants are those having long term effects through
either accumulation in the body, slow progressing damage to the body,
or small risk factors that become larger with repeated exposure.

Health effects from chronic contaminants are related by how much
contaminant is present and how long the person is exposed. Route of
exposure is also important: Ingestion, inhalation, and skin
absorption are typical routes of exposure. Exposure can also be
through energy overload to ears or eyes.

The typical regulatory agency (such as OSHA) approach is to limit
exposure, not to eliminate it. Nearly everything we come into contact
with has some risk. We (or sometimes the government) take on the
responsibility of determining what limit represents an acceptable
level of risk. (I suppose you could call the grease in fast food
french fries a chronic contaminant…it increases the risk of
vascular disease over time. However, I, on occasions accept the risk
of eating an order of french fries.)

The first and most essential thing to do in any studio is to reduce
the concentration of exposure by providing ventilation and dust
collection. Dust collection should use a HEPA filter. I, personally,
would not work without at least ventilation and dust collection.

For myself, I seldom use a dust mask unless dealing with something
particularly toxic. I avoid breathing anything that smokes, raises a
cloud of dust or metal filings, or has an irritating odor. In jewelry
work we often use magnification which requires us to put our face so
close to the work that the air current of our respiratory inhalation
is stronger than that of the ventilation. In such cases, I usually
handle this like a swimmer…hold my breath close in then lean back
and turn my head to get another breath.

It is bad to breath abrasive dust…abrasives can cause both chronic
disease and acute disease. Research suggests that the sharper the
abrasive dust, the higher the risk of acute disease. Silicosis
kills…chronic silicosis kills slowly, acute silicosis kills
quickly. Last year I saw a sand blast worker on the street without
dust protection…that was just plain stupid consiidering the
occupational risk of silicosis.

As to “known to cause cancer in California…” lucky I don’t live in
California ;-). (I couldn’t resist a bit of humor at the choice of
mandatory language.) I expect that you have seen the same warning I
have seen on polishing compounds etc. I have no idea what contaminant
to which the exposure refers, so no idea what precautions to take…I
just depend on my dust collection system to protect me. At some point
we need to just do what we like knowing that something unexpected is
going to eventually get us. It is up to each of us to decide where
our risk tolerance lies.

I read what I can find on toxicity, read the labels and ingredients
then make my decision as to what exposure safety precautions to take.
Some things remain unknown…I go forward anyway. (I kind of wish I
had known about asbestos in the 1960’s and early '70’s before its
risk became widely known. Insurance companies not wanting to see
workman’s comp claims pour in had a lot to do with delaying
dissemination of about the risks. Oh well, such is life,
maybe it will get me maybe something else will get me first.)

As to disposing of pickle. Most commercial pickles such as Sparex
and Rio Pickle are based on sodium bisulfate. Sodium bisulfate is the
same active ingredient used in the old crystal form of Sani Flush
toilet bowl cleaner. It is also a major ingredient in many iron stain
removal products such as Iron Out. The pH of average raw sewage water
is about 7.5, so the acidity of the pickle will neutralize in the
sewage disposal system. Sulfate is a commonly occurring mineral found
at fairly high levels in many drinking water wells. EPA has been
considering regulation extremely high levels of sulfate in drinking
water because a person newly exposed to high levels of sulfate could
experience temporary intestinal upset until their system becomes
acclimated. I don’t see your method of disposal of pickle as a
problem so long as it is the sodium bisulfate type of pickle. Never
mix acid with bleach in the toilet; It will release chlorine
gas…certain death if you breath enough of it.

Again…I cannot over emphasize getting at least some ventilation in
your studio…a window fan if nothing else. Keep the air moving away
from your face. Also get a HEPA dust collection system if you do not
have one. I use a powerful HEPA vacuum cleaner hooked to my dust
collection hood. I had to sell two or three pieces of jewelry to pay
for it…I consider it one of my best investments…how many months
or years might it add to my productive capacity? Chances are, I will
earn more than enough to pay for the safety equipment.

Howard Woods
Enjoying the first gloaming of dawn in Eagle Idaho


I found your post very interesting. I have had minimal schooling in
jewelry designs and metalworking, mostly through FIT and the Jewelry
Arts Institute. I was taught, though, that safety when using
chemicals and soldering should be a top priority. When I first started
soldering and using chemicals at home (cannot afford a studio space)
I saved up enough money to buy a used fume extractor on ebay ($400).
When I solder I open the windows and point the fume extractor tube
right next to my work area. I don’t work with a lot of chemicals, but
when I do, I open the windows or take them outside on the patio. When
I sand down polymer resin pieces, I haul the equipment onto the patio
of my apartment. It’s a pain in the neck, but I feel safer this way.
I was also taught never to poor chemicals down the drain. I would
love to know what the correct methods of disposal are, because all I
ever got was what not to do. As for pregnancy, I too plan to have
children in the next few years and this concerns me. When I do become
pregnant, I am going to give up working with chemicals and soldering
until my baby is born. Better safe than sorry in my opinion. I’d love
to hear more on this topic from people who have been through
pregnancy and continued to work.

Cry Baby Designs

See the article I wrote for Lapidary Journal in 1999 Weiss, Linda
Studio Safety, 257, 5-99

Introduction to Goldsmithing Health Hazards

Since then Sarah Sanford has written an excellent article - there is
also a great publication put out by Charles Lewton Brain - you can
probably access all of these throught the Orchid Archives.

I was also taught never to poor chemicals down the drain. I would
love to know what the correct methods of disposal are, because all
I ever got was what not to do. As for pregnancy, I too plan to have
children in the next few years and this concerns me. 

The downside of stopping work when you are pregnant with your first,
is that then the baby is born, and suddenly you have very little
time for metalsmithing, and you think, oh, I just lost 9 months.

As Karenworks has said on this list, and is quoted in Charles’s book
Safety in the Jewelry Workshop, which everyone should own, you
shouldn’t be doing anything in your studio that you wouldn’t do when
you were pregnant. (paraphrase)

So you’re already doing a great job with your ventilation. Change
other systems to the most non-toxic possible. Decide which tasks you
won’t do while you’re pregnant and make a plan – can you pay
someone to do your soldering during that time?

Read back in the archives, as this subject comes up now and then.
Moms have posted on both sides. Some stop metalsmithing completely,
others say, I worked right through every pregnancy and all my kids
are fine.

Of course, you can stop work completely, and just spend a lot of
time with your sketchbook.

Or learn to work with metal clay, with is non-toxic and safe.

It’s a personal decision, of course. Your doctors are no help because
they have no idea what you’re working with. Get MSDS sheets for
everything, read up, and make your workshop as safe as possible for
all the time.


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

Before dumping your pickle, naturalize it with baking soda.

Eric McCafferty

Ok, now here’s my problem…

I melt silver for hand casting using an acetylene/air torch. When I
get enough ventilation going to keep the fumes down my flame wavers
all over the place & I can’t keep steady heat. I work in a converted
travel trailer with windows & door open plus a/c fan going. I tried
working outside but the breezes drove me crazy. Here in Quartzsite
the wind has been so bad lately that I can’t even work in my studio
because I would have to close the door & I don’t think that would be
a good idea.

How can I keep my flame steady & still have enough ventilation to
protect myself?

Reev in QZAZ where it finally rained


It is easy to get all worked up on toxicity in the studio/workshop,
but it is also too easy to isolate the workshop from the constantly
eroding environment. The global economy has a concomitant dimension.
You just can’t isolate the environmental degradation at a specific
dimension. We are all being polluted by our own environmental
transgressions. You can grouse all day long about the effect of the
greenhouse climate change, but you will still hop in your car and
dump a few gazillion b.t.u’.s into the atmosphere along with
beaucoups millions of carbon dioxide molecules. The fact is that
everything that we do affects the balance of nature and…the more
of us that there are affect us that much more ! Planet earth is a
happenstance event…it will work or it won’t. Nature is
happenstance ! We must not presume that we are important nor that we
might prevail upon our destinies…we are chance events in a
cosmic convolution…at best, we can only hope to achieve short
term control over our lives…dust unto dust !

Ron Mills, Mills Gem Co. Los Osos, Ca.

We must not presume that we are important nor that we might prevail
upon our destinies......we are chance events in a cosmic best, we can only hope to achieve short term
control over our lives...dust unto dust ! 

That doesn’t give us the right to behave foolishly. We do have the
ability to live in a better environment, even a healthy animal knows
not to soil near the food bowl. I could go on and on but that’s
enough for now…I’ll leave room for the others who will comment
I’m sure…


There have been lots of good comments on shop safety, etc. All worth
considering, even if some stretch reality. There is one very
practical item I’ve not seen mentioned.

I suggest everyone have a small bottle of VITAMIN E CAPSULES (400
units) in their shop. The stuff is icky-sticky but incredibly
effective at rapidly healing small burns.

Any time you pick up a still hot work piece, absent mindedly touch a
hot soldering pick, or find some other ingeniously stupid way of
burning yourself immediately get out a vitamin E capsule. Just snip
off the end of the capsule and squeeze some of the oil directly on
the burn. Usually at that point the burn will either be glowing a
dull red or be seared white. Put the capsule aside so you can apply
more oil every 20 or 30 minutes for the next hour or two. Try to
keep the surface of the burn covered with the oil.

You will probably be astonished at the rapid healing. The next day
you may not even be able to tell where the burn was…depending, of
course, on just how effective you were at burning yourself in the
first place.

Attention is prevention!
Dr. Mac

I just wanted to thank everyone for their advice…I will
definitely get some sort of ventillation and I very much appreciate
your thoughts on this matter…You guys are the best!

laura :slight_smile:

Regarding the safe disposal of Sparex and similar pickle, my
understanding is that it is not advisable to dump it down the drain.
this is not because of the acid, which can be safely neutralized.
The reason is the high concentration of copper dissolved in the old
pickle. This is why it turns a blue-green color over time. Copper
is poisonous in this form, dissolved in the water.

Instead of dumping the old Sparex solution down the drain, I have a
large plastic wide-mouthed jar (say 1/2 gallon) half filled with
marble chips. I pour the Sparex into the jar, and over time the acid
is neutralized by the marble chips which are a weak base (but slower
acting than baking soda, so you don’t have the problem of the Sparex
bubbling up and overflowing), and the water evaporates by the time I
need to dispose of the next used-up pickle solution. Once again I
pour it into the jar of marble chips. I have used the same jar with
the same chips for about 20 years in this manner. At some point I
will bring it to a Hazardous Waste Disposal Day run by our county,
maybe in another 20 years.


Another good burn remedy is “Pure Vanilla Extract”. Tape a cotton
swab soaked with vanilla to your burn. You will be amazed that there
will be no blistering or scaring. Try it, you’ll be a believer.

Another good application for the vitamin E-capsule is, it will
remove warts. Keep the wart saturated for two weeks (not an easy
task) and it will fall off. I told a very old Dr. I had done this and
had success. He said "Oh yeh, we used to inject warts wit E to get
rid of them, but the Food and Drug Administration made us stop. You
never know just what we have at our finger tips.


I will definitely get some sort of ventillation 

I would advise to look at the quarto line of products.

Andy “The Tool Guy” Kroungold
Tool Sales / Technical
Stuller Inc
Phone 800-877-7777 ext. 94194
Fax 337-262-7791

For burns I use aloe, straight from the plant which when I’m not
burning myself (I do that more in the kitchen anyway) is helping to
keep my air that tiny little bit cleaner too. Aloe is apparently
edible alothough tasting it I can’t imagine why you would want to.

Norah Kerr