The Jewelers and Asbestos

The extracts below are from the book “The Jewelry Workshop Safety Report“and cites what asbestos means for a jeweler

Asbestos is a real problem for jewelers. When I was first a student in 1974, we had a bucket of loose asbestos fibers under the soldering bench; we would take a handful and moisten it with water to form a clay-like blob to hold things together for soldering. This would be unthinkable today.

The quantity of chemicals you are exposed to, their concentration and the length of time you are exposed all influence what the effects of chemical exposure are. The individual, their medical history, their genes, their health and habits also influence what effects a given chemical or material will have on that person. Some people will get sick with mild or brief exposures to chemicals, some require long exposure or higher amounts of exposure. A very few will not get sick even with very large exposures (Waller 13). This is why the phrase “My father worked with asbestos all his life and nothing bad ever happened to him”-as I had a jeweler say to me when I suggested they get rid of the loose asbestos in a bowl on their soldering bench-does not justify asbestos use in the workshop.

Asbestos exposure is, at this point, the best known cause of occupational cancers, and reading the monthly death reports in occupational health and safety magazines, it seems to be a really major cause of death from job-related cancer, even now, years after asbestos has been recognized and removed from contact with most of us. Asbestos exposure also causes other kinds of cancer and acts synergistically with other chemicals, an example being cigarette smoking (you are 92 times more likely to get cancer than the general population if you do both). (Stellman and Daum 174)

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Besides lung cancer, asbestos also causes various other kinds of cancers throughout your body. Asbestos exposure is so bad for you that you must under no circumstances have any asbestos or asbestos products in your workshop. No if, ands, or buts on that, don’t even think of keeping any asbestos around -even if it seems to work well for holding things while soldering. It is just too dangerous, even at very small exposures. You can substitute heat protective clays from jewelry suppliers or paper clay or soldering investment for the things jewelers used asbestos for. People have died of asbestos-caused cancer (mesothelioma) from one day’s exposure to asbestos fibers (Stellman and Daum 174). While some types of asbestos are considered less dangerous than others at least one case of mesothelioma in the jewelry industry was due to contamination of the ‘safer’ kind of asbestos by others that do more damage rapidly (Kern et al 409). Jewelers who use asbestos soldering pads blow it into the air when soldering and working with them. Then they sweep the shop – raising a cloud of it again. Asbestos injured jewelry workers share those activities, especially sweeping the floor (Dssing and Langer 756-8). The other activity associated with asbestos related problems was making soldering molds incorporating asbestos powder-something I learned how to do in Germany (Kern and Frumkin 407-10). Don’t use asbestos. Got it?

And yet, I know jewelers who keep a little asbestos around “because it works.” As far as I am concerned, even though only about 25% of the people exposed to asbestos might develop cancer from it, that is too much. People can develop asbestosis with as little as two or three days’ exposure. And there are excellent alternatives, soldering plasters like “Quickset #2” investment stone from Kerr or clay-like heat shield materials which work in the exact same way that the asbestos mixture does. If there is a substitute that does the same job without hazard, use it. There is a reason so many countries have banned asbestos and require serious protection for workers removing it from buildings.

Here is the text of an I recently sent to a student in South Africa regarding asbestos use in her school: “Get rid of all asbestos in your shop. Gloves (substitute leather or Kevlar), soldering surfaces (substitute light-refractive ceramic brick), asbestos pastes and clays for holding when soldering (substitute Quickset #2 investment stone plaster from Kerr, wet paper wadded up for protecting stones, heat-protecting clay for soldering with gemstones etc.). Asbestos is really too dangerous to have around. About 1 out of 4 people can get cancer from it, even from small exposures. 3 out of 4 won’t, but the risk is too high.”

While there is some slight concern that some of the synthetic mineral fibers that have replaced asbestos may cause bronchial carcinomas, there is still no solid evidence that they damage the respiratory system (Waldron 117).

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A synopsis of safety information is here at the Ganoksin Project

Here are some Asbestos containing product lists

The extracts below are from the book "The Jewelry Workshop Safety Report".
All rights reserved internationally. Copyright © Charles Lewton-Brain. Users have permission to download the information and share it as long as no money is made. No commercial use of this information is allowed without permission in writing from Charles Lewton-Brain.
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