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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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Mining the earth for materials is what Man has done for oh so long in history. Its never been anything short of exploitive really.People get exploited in most mining operations from land grabs to labor. Its been a fact for eons.Not just diamonds.

I use almost a pound cobalt oxide per 10,000 grams of my black glaze which manly I use as an underglaze (sample #3 on my website)

I usually keep about 20,000 grams in a huge bucket and go thru a large quantity of this glaze per year.

I have always bought large quantities when the price was low 

About a decade ago I bought a 55# drum of cobalt carbonate from a non ceramic supply source-I sold 2/3 of it as I did noted that much but the price was good for all of us then-I still have some left. The same is true with cobalt Oxide I bought a bout 30#s when it was ow cost-still using it and have enough to last maybe 5-10 more years-maybe all the years I have left in ceramics

The cell /car battery market has put a crunch on this material in past years .

One thing to learn is watch the market on materials as we potters are the trickle down users who account for near zero in the materials market.

When the price is low buy a lot when its high hold.

If you only buy as a hobbyist then you will get clobbered now and then on price-thats true with many materials as well . I mentioned some of the points in My CM article last year

Its all about paying attention-been that way with Tin oxide as well for my 47 years in the business.

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I was thinking more along the lines of doing without cobalt or finding alternatives rather than buying in bulk.

My 0.5% cobalt glaze is another 'just a drop in the bucket' but it is mine and every once in a while I get to wondering just how special is it.

I know a black glaze can be acheived without cobalt but, of course, batteries are a different issue.

Alternatives to Cobalt, the Blood Diaomond of Batteries - Can scientists find a way to power our phones, robots and electric cars without cobalt.

Maybe technology will save us sometime in the future. It's a nice thought but maybe, today, I don't need another blue glaze.

Or maybe we don't 'need' that market blue at all.

 

 

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1 hour ago, C.Banks said:

I was thinking more along the lines of doing without cobalt or finding alternatives rather than buying in bulk.

My 0.5% cobalt glaze is another 'just a drop in the bucket' but it is mine and every once in a while I get to wondering just how special is it.

I know a black glaze can be acheived without cobalt but, of course, batteries are a different issue.

Alternatives to Cobalt, the Blood Diaomond of Batteries - Can scientists find a way to power our phones, robots and electric cars without cobalt.

Maybe technology will save us sometime in the future. It's a nice thought but maybe, today, I don't need another blue glaze.

Or maybe we don't 'need' that market blue at all.

 

 

If you think cobalt is bad, don't look at the rest of the minerals and elements we use!!!

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9 hours ago, liambesaw said:

If you think cobalt is bad, don't look at the rest of the minerals and elements we use!!!

I grew up around mining so I'm well aware of the consequences of resource extraction.

The original question was about how we felt about the possibility of our use of cobalt suppporting child labour.

Responses encouraging the stockpiling of cobalt to take advantage of market fluctuations seems a bit off topic to be perfectly honest.

I know this is a prickly subject but this question opens up a whole slew of things we take for granted.

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My guess  this is because of the new world demand for batteries  in phones and cars is the major resone for this injustice-Thats just a guess but greed usually is the culprit .

My stocking up was long before the world ramped up on the cobalt  greed scale.I was pointing out also that its just not only cobalt or diamonds in terms of labor injustice.

I do not buy ornamental diamonds myself or my wife but we do use industrial diamonds in many things . Ceramics is not a light footprint on the planet . I do not take this for granted but understand it as part of the whole.

Edited by Mark C.

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Looks like cobalt will be mined in northern Ontario again. If our suppliers will have access to it that would be a positive.  https://www.northernontariobusiness.com/industry-news/mining/engineers-go-to-work-on-cobalt-refinery-restart-1673295

I never heard back from the stain manufactures I contacted regarding Cd inclusion stains. I spent a fair bit of time trying to track down information to counter what Tony Hansen writes as to the processing practices of it but came up empty. I think this comes down to where you draw the line in the sand as to what we are okay with using. Cd inclusion stains are made for the ceramics industry; they are not made for a larger industry and ceramics gets a tiny portion of it like most of the minerals we use. I've made the decision to stop buying the underglazes that I was using that include them.

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Here's the Hansen blurb on encapsulated cadmium sulfate/selenium stains: https://digitalfire.com/4sight/glossary/glossary_encapsulated_stains.html

The relevant information being that they're manufactured in countries with little/no clean water regulation because of the toxic waste that making the stains creates. (Soluble cadmium/selenium salts)

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On 9/9/2019 at 4:27 PM, liambesaw said:

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. 

Sarcasm ?  This is the same country just caught releasing fluorocarbons into the atmosphere again - who needs an ozone layer, right?

The US military is working with companies that mine rare earth deposits . There's a new processing plant in Colorado, with the ore mined in Texas. Guess its a strategic commodity now!

The price of cobalt indicates that the supply is being met. One of the major producers in the DRC has been shut down for 6 months and the price of cobalt has still dropped. It's too unstable to operate there. Future battery production may not use cobalt.

Cadmium is just bad news https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5596182/

 

 

 

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45 minutes ago, terrim8 said:

Sarcasm ?  This is the same country just caught releasing fluorocarbons into the atmosphere again - who needs an ozone layer, right?

The US military is working with companies that mine rare earth deposits . There's a new processing plant in Colorado, with the ore mined in Texas. Guess its a strategic commodity now!

The price of cobalt indicates that the supply is being met. One of the major producers in the DRC has been shut down for 6 months and the price of cobalt has still dropped. It's too unstable to operate there. Future battery production may not use cobalt.

Cadmium is just bad news https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5596182/

 

 

 

Yes sarcasm.  Our rare earth production in the US is strategic, not competitive.  There is no way to beat china when it comes to mining and refining these elements, at least not in a way that is ethically superior at their price point.  Either way, lanthanides are not a huge source of colorants for the average Potter outside of mason stains.  It's just a sick global game that is being played where the environment and human rights are the wager.  As potters we barely piggyback on the shoulders of large industry, but we are there nonetheless.  I have no doubt that if potters were the sole destination of these elements that it would be done a whole lot more ethically, along the lines of kaolin and ball clay, but as it stands, we cannot control the demand, therefore we cannot control the market.

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20 hours ago, liambesaw said:

There is no way to beat china when it comes to mining and refining these elements,

They used to say that about DeBeers & South Africa about diamonds. Then a  South African "defector" by the name of Chuck Fipke came along & spilled the beans to the geological community about specific pathfinder minerals in diamond exploration.  It had been a company secret.

 

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Choices everywhere. 

Slave labour everywhere

Where are our clothes made?

Street cleaners on different salary to everyone else?

Ethics and Morality.

People in glass houses....

I have got to a point. Don't be wasteful.

Don't be needy of what is left.

New isn't necessarily better.

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1 hour ago, terrim8 said:

They used to say that about DeBeers & South Africa about diamonds. Then a  South African "defector" by the name of Chuck Fipke came along & spilled the beans to the geological community about specific pathfinder minerals in diamond exploration.  It had been a company secret.

 

I don't know what that means in this context though.  Diamonds are still expensive and are mined by slaves and children all over Africa and Asia.  Even "ethical" and "conflict free" diamonds are provided by companies who buy conflict and unethical diamonds.  A good example is DeBeers, who opened a diamond mine in Canada to supposedly mine ethical conflict free diamonds, but it's marketing... Those diamonds are much more expensive and by buying them you're still supporting a company that is 'very bad'.

But either way, when you use slave labor, are able to destroy and pollute as much as you'd like, and are able to manipulate the value of your currency to benefit trade vs. your citizens, you will provide things a lower price.  

I don't know that i'd want to compete in that market!

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No, the point I am trying to make its that it won't take long for people to find the desired commodity in North America if the value is significant enough to encourage exploration. That is why I used the DeBeer's example. This generally runs into an oversupply situation and then the price of the commodity drops. But we can find and develop things here if needed. Btw, DeBeer's Victor Mine in northern Ontario is finished already and so is Snap Lake in the NWT.  Short expensive mine life.

Of course none of this can change company behavior or foreign government actions with respect to child labour or lax environmental laws. 

And as potters, you're absolutely right- we don't affect the commodity markets - we're too small.  We can decide to not use a product if we know it is produced unethically but that's about it .

The problem though is labeling. How do you know where your cobalt came from? Or all those diamonds I need to hurry up and buy for Christmas!

I'm adding something else here about labeling - I was buying toothpaste the other day and tried to find out where it was made. I went thru the whole rack and 99% just said imported and wouldn't say from where. I finally found one that said "made in the USA" and I bought that one. I don't want polluted toothpaste!

 

Edited by terrim8

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