Heavy Metal Poisoning
The objective of this post is to bring awareness to this potentially serious health hazard of working with the most common types of metal clay. The growing number of YouTube tutorials and demonstrations along with forum (FaceBook groups) recommended techniques that demonstrate a lack of concern for the users health can be at the very least considered "irresponsible". However,
only one person is responsible for your health!
With the following in your knowledge base, you will be better positioned to circumnavigate the social media world of recommended practices safely.
Although most metal clay manufacturers do print warnings on their clays, these warnings tend to be pretty generic such as:
Do not ingest (Most people would consider this to mean "Eat" and consider this as advise for the lower intellect only. But, ingest also means "to take in, absorb" which means that they cannot be held responsible for the below health issues. They told you not to "take in")
May cause skin rash
Ensure ventilation during firing (So what are the organic binders? If you don't know (manufacturers usually keep this information closely guarded secret) then "ensure ventilation". Also when firing with Carbon, this produces carbon monoxide, so ventilate.
Worse still, some metal clays provide these types of warnings in languages other than your mother tongue.
So what are the risks?
Copper toxicity, Copperiedus (includes Bronze) is a gradual condition, that can take a very long time to diagnose.
Chronic (long-term) copper exposure can damage the liver and kidneys.
The use of Estrogen birth control pills can increase the amount of copper in the body to toxic levels.
Symptoms of high level toxicity can include:
Vomiting, hematemesis (vomiting of blood), hypotension (low blood pressure), melena (black "tarry" feces), coma, jaundice (yellowing of the skin), and gastrointestinal issues.
Due to the body's natural capacity to handle copper, there is more of a chance that the following symptoms are felt. These symptoms are the result of the body's own protection mechanisms.
Symptoms often include mood swings, irritability, depression, fatigue, excitation, difficulty focusing, feeling out of control.
The most evident symptom is a Kayser-Fleischer ring (image above), where copper deposits form a ring around the cornea of the eye and is an indication that the body is not metabolizing copper properly.
The same symptom can also be observed with silver in the form of Scleral Argyria (image below). This is a definitive indicator that you should consult your doctor.
Silver poisoning, or Argyria / Argyrosis Is the result of excessive exposure to silver that can cause the skin to turn blue. This may be localized to a small area or generalized covering the whole body. Have a bruise that just doesn't go away?
Skin color may take a year or more to return to normal. This will require a dramatic reduction of the source of the silver intake!
Depending on the amount of metal clay work you do, these conditions can take a number of weeks to a number of years to manifest. With a little precaution, you can reduce the possibility of enduring negative health effects to practically zero.
Yes, you already knew the answer.
A Respirator Mask fitted with P100 filters provides protection against particle inhalation. Uncomfortable, a little....Essential, re-read above!
Make sure that the mask fits correctly as per the manufacturers instructions.
When to wear one:
Anytime there is a risk of airborne metal particles.
If you are constantly blowing metal clay dust while sanding or refining, then hopefully this information this will cure that habit fast.
Using a rotary tool or Curio / Silhouette cutting machine on metal clay. Remember, you don't need to SEE dust in the air for there to be metal particles. The metals in metal clay are "Atomized" = not visible to the naked eye.
Sanding, grinding or polishing fired metals. You also need this protection against the airborne polishing compound (especially if you use a silica based compound) dust, so ALWAYS when polishing.
Don't Forget Your "LOVE BUNDLES"
Love Bundles come in many shapes and sizes, some have two legs and two arms, some have four legs, but they all fill us with love just to see them. Children having a smaller body increases the health risk of heavy metal poisoning, the same applies to our furry family. Keeping them out of your working area may be like trying to herd chickens and rarely 100% attainable.
However, during the times that you know you are creating airborne metal particles, this is when you should really consider keeping them out of the room. When possible, keep the room well ventilated (YES! you still need to wear your mask) for a couple of hours after and during the completion your task.
If you need help in remembering all this: Attach your mask to your rotary tool with Velcro, Attach a photo of your "Love Bundle(s)" to your mask ;-)
*Disclaimer: This article is not intended as a substitution of professional medical advise. The symptoms described may be associated with numerous medical conditions, please do not self-diagnose. If you feel are demonstrating symptoms of metal toxicity, discuss openly with your Doctor the kind of and amount of time you have been exposed to the metal.
* NO MEDICAL ADVISE WILL BE PROVIDED IN RESPONSE TO ANY QUESTIONS RELATING TO THIS POST. IF YOU SUSPECT THAT YOU ARE EXPERIENCING ANY OF THE SYMPTOMS OF METAL TOXICITY, PLEASE CONSULT YOUR DOCTOR.