Ceramics artists may work with highly hazardous chemical products that can harm their health, such as:
- Silica dust from dry clay and glazes.
- Asbestos in clay slip.
- Glazes, stains, and clay containing toxic metals such as antimony, barium, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, copper, lead, manganese, selenium and vanadium.
Protect Your Skin and Eyes
- Wear nitrile gloves when throwing clay and applying glazes if you have sensitive skin or are allergic to nickel or copper.
- Confine or avoid wearing loose clothing and tie back long hair when working near motorized equipment.
- When kiln-firing, use goggle lens that block infrared (wavelength of 600 to 6,000 nanometers) to reduce the risk of eye damage and cataracts. Infrared radiation is released by glowing-hot materials, like red-hot pottery and furnaces.
Protect Your Lungs
- Use pre-wetted glazes and clay to reduce dust.
- Protect your lungs when mixing dry clay, glaze making, kiln-firing, and pub milling. To learn more about silica dust, see CDC's Silica webpage.
- Place your kiln in a location that allows a local exhaust fan to exhaust fumes and heat directly outside.
- Wet mop floors and wet wipe surfaces to reduce dust.
- Use a HEPA filter-equipped vacuum instead of sweeping up dust.
- Respirators and dust masks can provide additional protection from dust, smoke, and fumes.
- Buy pre-wetted clay to reduce the risk of inhaling free silica dust.
- Keep new clay and clay for reuse damp and covered to prevent drying.
- Buy glazes in a slurry form rather than as a dry powder to reduce the risk of inhaling toxic metal dusts.
- Use glazes that are less toxic. The safest metals are iron, calcium, sodium, and potassium. Cadmium, barium, selenium, and arsenic produce more fumes than other metals due to their low melting and boiling points.
- Keep containers closed to prevent spills of toxic liquids and powders.
- Visit the Art Supplies page to learn about safety warnings on product labels.
Safely Dispose of Ceramics Wastes
- If the clay is not fired, consider reuse.
- Empty containers can be disposed in the trash once almost all the materials they held are gone.
- Pottery containing lead, cadmium or barium from glazes must be disposed as hazardous waste. Unused ceramic glazes containing these metals must also be disposed as hazardous waste.
- Ceramic waste that is free of these metals may be disposed as solid waste.
- Whenever you create art, make sure the waste you generate is properly disposed. Learn more about waste disposal for artists.