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QotW: Will potters treat cobalt blue like blood diamonds?

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Recently, Min posted by way of @preeta :

@preeta brought something up that I've been pondering for years. In this thread she asks "i wonder are potters now going to treat cobalt blue like blood diamonds? Whole ‘nother Subject."

I realize as potters there's a strong probability that the cobalt we use is from the DRC and child labour plus health and safety concerns is a very valid concern in the mining practices there. We are not the reason for the mining, battery market seems to be the big driver now, but how do we feel about using cobalt or for that matter do we look into the mining practices of any of the materials we use? Cadmium inclusion stains to my knowledge are only being made in China and India, now why is that? (rhetorical question)

For myself, even though I have been aware of the problem, I believe that much of the fix may be as much a problem for potters as the cure is for the children. Conditions in 20% or more of the mining operations use child labor in horrendous circumstances. However, as the demand for cobalt becomes more and more prevalent for car batteries, and other smaller modern batteries, the demand will climb, as will the need for more efficient methods of mining. This will mean mechanization, and other cost saving measures that will probably remove children from the equation. That said, it is rather certain by all predictors that the cost of cobalt will go up, and the welfare of the children will be in further jeopardy with this source of income. I will continue to buy cobalt, hoping that my suppliers buy from the 80%, but at the same time I use very little cobalt carbonate in my glazes, and no cobalt oxide.

 

Asking in another manner,  How will you treat the use of cobalt in your work?

 

best,

Pres

 

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I don't think potters drive enough of a demand for cobalt to be worried that they're the reason for bad mining practices.  I don't know the numbers but I'm going to guess that potters use less than a thousandth of a percent of the cobalt mined.  We use cobalt alloys at work and I know they're the metal of choice for prosthetics and implants because they're biocompatible.  Of course the electronics industry is the biggest consumer.  So as far as feeling guilty, I just can't.  Too far removed from the problem and not driving demand.  

Speaking of which, I guess demand has plumeted because cobalt is cheaper than I've seen in long while.  Last time I picked up a pound I was shocked to see it at like a quarter of it's usual price.

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27 minutes ago, liambesaw said:

I don't think potters drive enough of a demand for cobalt to be worried that they're the reason for bad mining practices.  I don't know the numbers but I'm going to guess that potters use less than a thousandth of a percent of the cobalt mined.  We use cobalt alloys at work and I know they're the metal of choice for prosthetics and implants because they're biocompatible.  Of course the electronics industry is the biggest consumer.  So as far as feeling guilty, I just can't.  Too far removed from the problem and not driving demand.  

Speaking of which, I guess demand has plumeted because cobalt is cheaper than I've seen in long while.  Last time I picked up a pound I was shocked to see it at like a quarter of it's usual price.

Time to stock up??

 

best,

Pres

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I have contacted both Mason and Ferro (includes Cerdac, Degussa and Drakenfeld stains) requesting info on their stewardship practices in regards to cadmium inclusion stain manufacturing. If I hear back from them I'll post their replies here. Does anybody have any literature on the processing practices of cadmium inclusion stains? From this link at Digitalfire:

"... stain is further rendered safer-to-use by washing with water or weak acid to remove any soluble uncombined compounds (e.g. cadmium or soluble impurities). This washing process does produce toxic byproducts that can only be tolerated in certain countries (e.g. India, China)."

Considering the toxicity of Cd this is an ethical issue for me, if Mason or Ferro do corroborate what Tony Hansen is saying on Digitalfire then I will no longer be buying underglazes that use Cd stains.

I do hope you are correct Pres in that the mining practices will be changing and child labour will no longer be part of the equation. I will gladly pay more for it if I know it's ethically sourced.  BTW @liambesaw, even at $50 lb that's still about 1/2 of what it costs if I buy it from my local ceramic supply place (which I don't). From my local place's catalogue

"Cobalt Carbonate .................. 500 grams 92.10 

Cobalt Oxide ...............500 grams 102.00 "

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1 minute ago, Min said:

I have contacted both Mason and Ferro (includes Cerdac, Degussa and Drakenfeld stains) requesting info on their stewardship practices in regards to cadmium inclusion stain manufacturing. If I hear back from them I'll post their replies here. Does anybody have any literature on the processing practices of cadmium inclusion stains? From this link at Digitalfire:

"... stain is further rendered safer-to-use by washing with water or weak acid to remove any soluble uncombined compounds (e.g. cadmium or soluble impurities). This washing process does produce toxic byproducts that can only be tolerated in certain countries (e.g. India, China)."

Considering the toxicity of Cd this is an ethical issue for me, if Mason or Ferro do corroborate what Tony Hansen is saying on Digitalfire then I will no longer be buying underglazes that use Cd stains.

I do hope you are correct Pres in that the mining practices will be changing and child labour will no longer be part of the equation. I will gladly pay more for it if I know it's ethically sourced.  BTW @liambesaw, even at $50 lb that's still about 1/2 of what it costs if I buy it from my local ceramic supply place (which I don't). From my local place's catalogue

"Cobalt Carbonate .................. 500 grams 92.10 

Cobalt Oxide ...............500 grams 102.00 "

Hey if you ever need me to smuggle you some I've got your back that's a lot of dough (even if it's funny money)

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I use so very little cobalt, I'm not even sure anyone would care if I gave it up or not. I use it in increments of 1% or less, so I'm still working on the 250g package of carbonate I bought two years ago. 

I don't work in oranges or reds because I don't want to expose myself to cadmium, never mind anyone else. I don't care if they're stable enough for my use, someone had to expose themselves to keep me safe. To me, it's not worth it for a few pots. I bought the smallest package of red stain I could 5 years ago, and I can't bring myself to use it much. 

The yellow stain I do have is praseodymium based. Not sure how rare earth mining practices compare those of cadmium or cobalt. 

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5 minutes ago, Callie Beller Diesel said:

I use so very little cobalt, I'm not even sure anyone would care if I gave it up or not. I use it in increments of 1% or less, so I'm still working on the 250g package of carbonate I bought two years ago. 

I don't work in oranges or reds because I don't want to expose myself to cadmium, never mind anyone else. I don't care if they're stable enough for my use, someone had to expose themselves to keep me safe. To me, it's not worth it for a few pots. I bought the smallest package of red stain I could 5 years ago, and I can't bring myself to use it much. 

The yellow stain I do have is praseodymium based. Not sure how rare earth mining practices compare those of cadmium or cobalt. 

Rare earth refining is where you would draw concern I think.  I think all the lanthanides are mined together and separated via chemical process.  Since China is the dominant (only) producer of rare earth elements I'm sure they do it all safely and ethically.  But once again, the pottery world draws almost zero demand, so you aren't the driving force behind the mining and processing of the ore, you're a side concern of a side concern when it comes to praseodymium.

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Every day I must make big and small decisions regarding ethics, safety, exploitation of adults and children, integrity, willful disregard or unavoidable look-the-truth-in-the-face.  Every day I wind up feeling unsatisfied with some of what I "had" to  choose, for my own well-being, survival, and reasonable comfort. I choose--for darn good personal reasons--to not be an activist against heavy-duty matters that violate people's safety, health, rights, reasonable living conditions. I choose, to the extent that I am aware of what I am choosing-to not participate when I can reasonably avoid participation (free shipping and reward points not withstanding-shame on me). 

I recently "rescued" a betta (Siamese Fighting Fish-betta splendens) from a little cup of water in a pet store, to give it a wonderful home in a naturally planted aquarium. And yet, am  I not just perpetuating the hostage breeding  of these creatures,  just for my own pleasure-same as we breed chickens/cows/pigs just to be killed because broccoli gets boring?   I hope my mainstream commercial glaze suppliers do use ethical sourcing, but I am unlikely to research that further myself. If I learn they do otherwise, I'll stop using their cobalts.  I do what I can, but, frankly, I feel that it ain't very much. 

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It makes me wonder about so much that I used to take for granted when teaching. Think I have told the story here before about finding radioactive materials in our copper enamels back in the 70's. Wonder what amount of precaution was taken back then for mining, and refining these materials for packaging and use? Look back to the different things that later were found to be harmful. . . Fiesta ware??!! I think almost everyone had a set of that, or some pieces in the 60's, I know my parents had the green set.

 

best,

Pres

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