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Some art has hidden risks: asbestos in the jewelry industry

When someone thinks about work-related asbestos exposure, they may think about construction work, shipbuilding or manufacturing. Jewelry making is probably not the first profession to come to mind. Yet, asbestos has been used in the jewelry making process for decades.

Asbestos is a group of naturally occurring minerals with fire-resistant and insulative properties. However, researchers have linked these minerals with diseases like mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer.

How is asbestos used to make jewelry?

One of the most common ways jewelers could become exposed to asbestos is through asbestos soldering forms. Jewelers use soldering forms to hold pieces of metal together, so that the pieces will remain in position as the jeweler solders them.

Historically, jewelers would mix loose asbestos fibers with water to create these forms. Although safer alternatives exist, many jewelers continue to use the forms made from asbestos.

Another common way jewelers could be exposed to asbestos is by sanding or cutting gemstones that contain asbestos. Tiger’s eye may be the most widely recognized gemstone that can include asbestos. Actinolite is another example.

Is there a risk to hobbyists or jewelry collectors?

It may be difficult to tell exactly how dangerous it may be for a hobbyist to make their own jewelry. Researchers generally agree that any amount of asbestos exposure can lead to someone developing an asbestos-related disease. However, not everyone who is exposed ends up developing a related health condition.

Hobbyists may lower the risk of asbestos exposure by using asbestos alternatives whenever possible, wearing the proper protective equipment, keeping the work area clean and maintaining proper ventilation.

The risk of asbestos exposure may be even lower for someone who simply wears or collects jewelry. However, this risk could increase if the jewelry was not properly cleaned before someone purchased it or if the jewelry becomes damaged. For example, if a gemstone that contains asbestos shatters on the floor, it may be possible for asbestos particles to become airborne where someone can more easily inhale them.

Anyone who believes they have been exposed to asbestos may benefit from regular cancer screenings. Identifying an asbestos-related disease before symptoms develop can improve the number of potential treatment options available to them.

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