Dust, fumes and gases in the workshop


Piombino LI Italy

Deborah Ciolli

In a few lines, I will try to illustrate how we can work in the workshop in a simple and unpretentious way, without damaging our health and the environment by respecting a few safety rules. In this article - - which I hope is only the first of a series - - I would like to treat dust, fumes and gases before analyzing in detail the chemical components of ceramic products and their characteristics. Powders are produced during the working of the clay itself; crystallines, engobes and glazes are in powder form, and we potters mix them with water. The danger to our health is represented by particles with a size of less than 2.5 microns, capable of penetrating the pulmonary alveoli, accumulating and causing diseases such as silicosis. For this reason, it is always a good rule to use FFP2 masks, such as those we unfortunately use every day during the pandemic, during processing involving powders. We should also protect our eyes by wearing glasses, which could be irritated by the dust; and gloves - - the best ones being those in nitrile and neoprene, which are more resistant to basic or acidic chemicals. It is also important to always keep the workshop clean by vacuuming the floors and wiping the work surfaces with wet cloths. Cloths, tools and containers should be rinsed in a bucket containing water and not rinsed directly in the sink in order to avoid clogging the drains with clayey sediments, and to further avoid potentially harmful residues entering the water network. The brushes we use for crystalline, glazes and engobes can be washed in jars prepared with water - - we can rinse the brushes of blue and green crystallines in one, those used with orange, yellow and red colors in another - - in order to recover our materials and reuse them at the end of the month. Particular attention must be paid to the dust from ashes. When using ashes from wood, bone or other materials to produce glazes, special attention must be paid, because in addition to the problem of fine particles, the ashes are strongly alkaline, and can therefore cause even greater damage due to their alkalinity (i.e., due to their high pH). As for the fumes and gases, it is always good practice, when operating the kiln - - as long as it is inside the workshop and not in a separate room - - to operate it during the night and utilize it while we are not present. During bisque-firings, as well as during glaze firings at low, medium or high temperatures, the materials rid themselves of gases and fumes that can be harmful due to the presence of sulfur compounds and chlorinated compounds. Therefore, after the firings, it is advisable to ventilate the room to provide for a good air exchange. Further attention is required in case of firing in reduction, since reduction develops odorless and colorless carbon monoxide with high toxicity. All this obviously refers to electric kilns, since gas kilns are always located outside. We can equip the workshop with an extractor hood, but this equipment is really quite expensive. I have read and heard from many potters that adding table salt or bleach to glazes and crystallines helps to avoid their sedimentation. However, salt and bleach are chemically sodium chloride and sodium hypochlorite - - substances that release chlorine and hydrochloric acid in the firing, both very corrosive; therefore extremely harmful, even in small quantities - - they corrode the heating elements of the kiln and our lungs, and pollute the environment. In closing, I conclude that, for us potters, Madame Curie's speech is valid - nothing should be feared but everything must be known and understood - - I believe that we all must pay attention to health and to the environment by learning to know what we use and how we use it. Enjoy yourselves at work!


It is known that in the past the work of the ceramist was among the most risky for health. A potter faced disabling and often fatal occupational diseases because she/he worked in unhealthy environments and in contact with harmful chemicals, which are now banned. Few good practices will allow us to work in the ceramic workshop in complete safety, without harming our health and the environment. Amalia Ferrigno

Experiments and more experiments!!! What to do with all the rinsing waters of the brushes and tools of the workshop? They should not be thrown down the drain because they clog the tubes and are polluting!! Let's use them. I got this glaze firing cone 6. Bowl made of recovered clay, the interior is decorated with recycled glaze material from rinsing the brushes and tools of the laboratory; its outside is glazed with recycled stain brush rinsing. Fired at 1240°; December 2021.



Jars with water to rinse brushes of various colors and recover the material
Bowl with recycled clay
Experimental recycling glaze
Mask and glasses


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