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Is silicosis inevitable??


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Hi friends! I wanted to come here after a scary google search that said “no cure” and “warning” all over the place. I just got finished trimming some pieces that were on the dry side of leather hard and my throat felt scratchy, so I knew I’d breathed in some clay dust. I haven’t taken my anxiety meds in a couple weeks so this has triggered a full freak out about silicosis. I have been doing pottery in school for YEARS (I’m 23 so about 7 years of actively working in a studio) and it was never talked about much because they said the dust was bad, but wouldn’t hurt us with such little exposure. (They didn’t expect us to continue after that class. I thought by little exposure they meant the amount of dust, not the little time we were exposed to it) With that statement I thought that only large amounts of silica at a time could hurt your lungs, not that every small bit builds up scar tissue until you have silicosis. So is it just inevitable? I’m starting to freak out that I may have chosen a job that will kill me. I’ve read everything on the forum that talks about it and it’s made me feel a little better, but how do you not freak out that every day it is building up inside of you? Even if I’m not at risk now, isn’t every bit I’m breathing in going to hurt me in 60 years? Even if it’s just a tiny amount? I’m going to the store tomorrow to buy a respirator mask and am buying a HEPA air filter tonight. 

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Posted (edited)

My “studio” is just a spare bedroom in my apartment and after reading some more forums I am worried that my contaminated air is spread through the apartment by the heat/AC system. Does that happen? I am really good at keeping dust from leaving the room, I wear socks and coveralls in there that I take off when I walk out. But I don’t know how to control it when it’s leaving through the air. Anyways, please give me reassurance or advice, this is making me wonder if I need to give up on my pottery plan because this is going to be a constant stressor. I think I need to get off the internet for tonight 

Edited by Hailey
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I feel like I might be in a unique position to reassure you a little bit. I hope. First though, no, it isn’t inevitable.

I started in clay when I was 17. I am now 44. I have some pine pollen allergies that are giving me grief right now, but my lungs are otherwise healthy. I’m not 60 years in, but 27 is something.  I also have my studio in my home, and I have a very strict studio shoes policy. My home seems to have no more dust than can be accounted for by the presence of 4 humans and a small, dorky dog. I do not possess an air purifier, and just mop regularly. So far, so good.

Silicosis IS more prevalent in folks who do sandblasting for instance, than in studio potters. It’s possible for us to get it, but it’s also possible for us to take simple precautions that will allow us to avoid it. If you’ve gone down the internet rabbit hole, you know to do things like mopping your floor after dust producing activities, and do wet cleanup. You know to wear a proper respirator while mixing glazes. Some will tell you that air purifiers are a good thing. My belief is that they stir the air more than they help, and filter quality matters.

Know also, that the larger dust particles are common irritants, similar to pollen. Just because you got a nose full of trimming dust doesn’t mean you’re doomed. Your body will expel the stuff that’s making you cough in a day or two, just like pollen.  I will say that trimming is a much more pleasurable experience when it’s done at leather hard, and gentler on your wrists, too.

If it’s really causing you medical anxiety though, I’m going to suggest that you reach out to your mental health practitioner and discuss it with them. I’m not qualified to help you find the place where reasonable risk precautions and diagnosed anxiety separate from each other. 

As far as giving up on a pottery plan, my therapist always told me to not make life changing decisions in the wee hours of the morning. 

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Hi Hailey,

It's good you are aware of the potential silicosis issue but I would try and put it in perspective. Do a search on "silicosis" on the main forum page, one such thread here discussing it. There are many of us here on this forum who work out of our homes, usually in the basement. Practicing good studio hygiene by keeping everything as dust free as possible is the most important thing. Not creating the dust in the first place will go a long way; for example don't dry sand pots, use a damp sponge instead if you need to smooth something out. I don't have forced air heating in my workspace, I use radiant heaters when necessary in the winter. Like everything in life there are plus and minuses. If working with clay is something you enjoy then thats going to be a plus and probably help reduce your anxiety, silica is a risk but one that can be managed.

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Hi Hailey!

Hope you find good information and use it to square up against nuisance dust with your abatement plan - you might get some info and advice here (yep!) in this thread, however, my first advice (see?) is to research the topic thoroughly - likely, that will help.

First, are you firing in your spare room? Routing all (at least most of) the fumes out and away, that's a concern, and fire danger, there's that as well. Second, are you mixing glazes in your studio? Storing and managing materials and glazes - it's all dust - that's a concern.

Clay dust, hrrm. My observation has been that communal/academic studio (I spent a year in the local JC ceramic lab) is much more dusty than my home studio, for there's dry clay everywhere - on the floor, on shelves, wheels, canvas covered work tables (yuck) - everywhere. How to measure dust? I'm still posing this question - no answers yet. My suggestion has been to monitor clean surfaces - how quickly does dust accumulate? I'm finding that our clothes closet is a dusty place, also the kitchen. In the studio (we have a two car garage and a one car garage; the latter is my studio/workshop/bikeshop), the wedging and wheel areas appear to be the dustiest. Back to measurement - wipe clean a portion of shelf, counter, floor, etc., then check back periodically  - how much dust has appeared? At the local JC lab, an appalling layer of dust accumulates in less than two days - at every level, everywhere.

Abatement, hrrm. Dry clay, bad. Quickly moving air, also bad.

I run my mop (commercial bucket and wringer - like the one I put myself through undergrad with) several times/week in the studio. I wipe down the wheel, tools, and counters at least daily. Open clay bags slowly and carefully, wiping back the dried clay. Green ware sits on the green ware shelving, which be furthest away from moving air in my studio. I do open the roll up door and the man door for air and to get in and out. Having everything clean afore opening the doors helps, for moving air moves any dust as well. I wear my N95 when stirring up the dust, aye.

No sanding in the studio. Handle glaze materials with N95 on, aye; thorough clean up after, aye that too. Mop and/or wipe up glaze spills/drips afore they dry, aye that.

There are dustier places - dustier than my studio - near us, the beach, for example, and others' studios, heh.

Be concerned, stay concerned enough to keep up your dust control plan!

Please post back how it goes.

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15 minutes ago, Hulk said:

Hi Hailey!

Hope you find good information and use it to square up against nuisance dust with your abatement plan - you might get some info and advice here (yep!) in this thread, however, my first advice (see?) is to research the topic thoroughly - likely, that will help.

First, are you firing in your spare room? Routing all (at least most of) the fumes out and away, that's a concern, and fire danger, there's that as well. Second, are you mixing glazes in your studio? Storing and managing materials and glazes - it's all dust - that's a concern.

Clay dust, hrrm. My observation has been that communal/academic studio (I spent a year in the local JC ceramic lab) is much more dusty than my home studio, for there's dry clay everywhere - on the floor, on shelves, wheels, canvas covered work tables (yuck) - everywhere. How to measure dust? I'm still posing this question - no answers yet. My suggestion has been to monitor clean surfaces - how quickly does dust accumulate? I'm finding that our clothes closet is a dusty place, also the kitchen. In the studio (we have a two car garage and a one car garage; the latter is my studio/workshop/bikeshop), the wedging and wheel areas appear to be the dustiest. Back to measurement - wipe clean a portion of shelf, counter, floor, etc., then check back periodically  - how much dust has appeared? At the local JC lab, an appalling layer of dust accumulates in less than two days - at every level, everywhere.

Abatement, hrrm. Dry clay, bad. Quickly moving air, also bad.

I run my mop (commercial bucket and wringer - like the one I put myself through undergrad with) several times/week in the studio. I wipe down the wheel, tools, and counters at least daily. Open clay bags slowly and carefully, wiping back the dried clay. Green ware sits on the green ware shelving, which be furthest away from moving air in my studio. I do open the roll up door and the man door for air and to get in and out. Having everything clean afore opening the doors helps, for moving air moves any dust as well. I wear my N95 when stirring up the dust, aye.

No sanding in the studio. Handle glaze materials with N95 on, aye; thorough clean up after, aye that too. Mop and/or wipe up glaze spills/drips afore they dry, aye that.

There are dustier places - dustier than my studio - near us, the beach, for example, and others' studios, heh.

Be concerned, stay concerned enough to keep up your dust control plan!

Please post back how it goes.

Thank you! I don’t fire in there nor do I mix my own glazes. Every studio I have been in has had canvas wedging tables and they are SO dusty. Right now I just wedge in a painting canvas, like on the ground in a frame. I’ve looked on the forum at the conversations about other wedging surfaces but haven’t really picked one. Is there one that is best for managing dust? And should I open the window while I’m in there?

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hailey, perhaps because you are so anxious about it, you should talk to a doctor who specializes in lung disease.    surely, there is someone in your area who has a realistic view on the subject.    a frank discussion with that person or a group of people could help you reach a point of acceptance that will allow you to continue with clay.   if you can accept that crossing a street is dangerous, climbing a ladder is dangerous,  doing almost anything is dangerous in some way, maybe you can learn to accept that risk is part of everyone's life.    take steps to correct anything you can.    keeping a clean studio by forming habits that encourage cleanliness is one way to keep yourself safer.   i sometimes visit studios that make me want to leave immediately, the dust is visible in the air, and tools are lying around covered in clay bits that have crumbled off since being discarded carelessly.    stay away from such places since you probably will have no way to change them to  meet your standards.

you have control over your own studio.   keep it clean, follow practices that do not cause extra dust,  and enjoy the results.

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If you have a return air vent in your room it could pull dusty air into your ventilation  system.  You could tape some heavy plastic over it and open a window if the air seems dusty.   You could also add a extra foam seal around your entrance door.     I am almost 69 and have been in dusty situations my whole like.  I  was born and live in Kansas a dry windy dusty state,  I worked in two different dental labs,  extremely dusty and I have been working with clay for 50 years.  My lungs are in great shape.   Denice

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There are a few cures for silicosis in trial phases now, actually discovered during the coronavirus treatment experiments during early pandemic.  Good hope for those in our profession who have progressed to the point of COPD.

Silicosis is not inevitable, it's highly avoidable with safe and conscious studio practices.

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