Man glass blowing
Glass-blowing risks include eye damage, burns, cuts, and inhalation of toxic fumes and abrasive dusts.

Glassworking artists may work with highly hazardous chemical products that can harm their health, such as:

  • Colorants in frit, batch, fuming compounds, and glass paints containing these toxic metals: antimony, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, copper, lead, manganese, selenium, silver, and uranium.
  • Crystalline silica from grinding, cutting and sandblasting glass.
  • Corrosive and highly toxic hydrofluoric acid and ammonium bifluoride from etching.
  • Formaldehyde from decomposition of resin molds.
  • Lead and fluoride fumes from stained glass soldering.
  • Toxic and irritating metal chlorides from fuming metals onto glass.
Man working with stained glass
Stained-glass art involves working with sharp edges and tools. Eye injuries can occur while cutting glass. Exposure to glass dust from cutting and grinding and lead fumes from soldering are other common hazards.

Protect Your Skin and Eyes

  • Wear protective gloves when working with hot or sharp glass.
  • Wear durable nitrile gloves when working with chemical etchants.
  • Confine loose clothing and hair when working near cutting saws, grinding wheels, and furnaces.
  • Use goggle lens that block infrared (wavelength of 600 to 6,000 nanometers) to reduce the risk of eye damage and cataracts. Standard didymium glasses do not block infrared radiation released by glowing-hot materials and furnaces.

Protect Your Lungs

  • Use pelletized batch, cullet, and second-melt glass to reduce toxic metal dust.
  • Protect your lungs when mixing dry pigments, fuming metals onto glass, kiln-firing, lampworking (flame or torch working), dry grinding and polishing glass, and soldering stained glass.
  • Canopy hoods often provide limited respiratory protection from inhalation hazards. They may only capture heat and some of the lightest particles that released immediately below the canopy.
  • Place your kiln in a location that allows a local exhaust fan to exhaust fumes and heat directly outside. Connect a fan and ductwork directly to your electric kiln to pull contaminated air outside.
  • Use wet slurries when cutting and grinding glass to control silica and toxic metal dust.
  • Wet mop floors and wet wipe surfaces in the cold shop to reduce dust.
  • Use a HEPA filter-equipped vacuum instead of sweeping up dust in the cold shop.
  • Respirators and dust masks can provide additional protection from dust, smoke, and fumes.
  • Keep containers closed. Toxic dusts can spill from poorly sealed containers of colorants.

Use Safer Practices and Materials

  • Use pelletized batch, cullet, and second-melt glass to reduce toxic metal dust.
  • Carefully use abrasive blasting in place of hydrofluoric acid-based etchants and wear appropriate PPE.
  • Choose foundry sand in place of cold-setting sands with synthetic mold-binding resins containing formaldehyde.
  • Use ammonium bifluoride cream instead of hydrofluoric acid for acid etching when sand blasting is not an option.
  • Keep a tube of calcium gluconate cream (commonly sold as Calgonate gel) nearby to apply to skin in case of exposure to glass etching chemicals.
  • Use silicon carbide, alumina, tin oxide and/or diamond as grinding and polishing media.
  • Wet grind and polish glass.
  • Clean wet-grinding equipment before the slurry can dry to inhalable dust.
  • Use thin layers of refractory materials instead of ceramic fiber mats.
  • Contract out cold-working of leaded crystal to prevent contaminating your studio.
  • Visit the Art Supplies page to learn about safety warnings on product labels.

Safely Dispose of Glassworking Wastes

  • Empty containers can be disposed in the trash once almost all the materials they held are gone.
  • Cold shop wastewater may contain toxic metals that can harm sewage treatment plants and septic tanks. Seal cold shop floor drains to keep toxic metals out of drains.
  • Install small settling buckets to capture cutting and grinding slurries.
  • Use a HEPA-filtered equipped shop vacuum to collect remaining grinding dust before mopping the floor.
  • Carefully dispose of collected grinding and polishing dusts as hazardous waste.
  • Whenever you create art, make sure the waste you generate is properly disposed. Learn more about waste disposal for artists.

Video: Toxic Acids