Dangers of Working With Clay

Dangers of Working With Clay

Handle a Kiln Properly

In previous blogs, I have written about my wife and me becoming interested in building a ceramics business as an income generator after my retirement. I have also detailed why we decided that ceramics was not the business that suited us. However, we still follow ceramic shows and occasionally get into conversations with the people who do pursue the ceramics business. One discussion took a tangent off into some hazards of working with clay that I had never considered.

The discussion began with the possible presence of lead in some clay used by potters and the need to make certain it is handled by someone knowledgeable. Lead is dangerous to your health when breathed in or ingested and can also be absorbed through the skin. It is extremely dangerous when fired in a kiln and becoming airborne. Obviously, eating or drinking from a ceramic containing lead is dangerous. While clay can contain lead so can the glazes used when firing the ceramics. Even paint is sometimes—especially older paint—contains lead. While white and red paints are the most suspect, it’s also important to remember that both are used to tint other colors of paints.

Lead isn’t the only danger; materials such as barium, cobalt, cadmium and others may be included in the ingredients of paint.

At first, I thought the guy who was leading the conversation was laying the dangers on a little bit thickly, but as he continued he seemed to know what he was talking about.

In any event, all a potter has to do is read labels and check the background of his materials. Of course, a potter should also be educated in how to handle chemicals and avoid doing things that invite trouble.

The guy said one more thing that made a lot of sense; don’t set up a kiln in the basement or an enclosed garage or workshop. The probability of inhaling toxins is simply too great.