The Straight Dope

Go Back   Straight Dope Message Board > Main > General Questions

Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
  #1  
Old 09-11-2006, 05:18 PM
metonymic metonymic is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 2005
the dangers of blowing glass (early death?)

I was reading a thread on glass blowing at another message board, where a poster cautioned that glass blowers traditionally and currently die early deaths due to the inherant dangers of glass blowing, specifically with regard to the chemicals used/created/released in the process.


After cursory research, I can see that the high temperatures involved can lead to serious burns, that unexpected 'explosions' are possible (which, combined with the sharpness of glass, can cause serious injuries), and that inhaling dust created during the process can be seriously damaging.


So obviously, it's a very dangerous activity. But surely with the proper precautions, and experience, these hazards can be avoided?

I haven't found much to support the idea that modern glass blowing is linked to a high mortality rate, or to an 'early death' rate.; however, I'm skeptical of my mad google skillz.


And so I turn to you. Does glass blowing lead to an early death?
Reply With Quote
Advertisements  
  #2  
Old 09-11-2006, 05:23 PM
Tapioca Dextrin Tapioca Dextrin is online now
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Dec 1999
Location: Staring blankly at my GPS
Posts: 11,609
The main ingredients of glass are silica and lead. Sucking in those isn't going to be healthy. As for the funky chemicals used in coloured glass, they're bound to be toxic.
Reply With Quote
  #3  
Old 09-11-2006, 05:35 PM
alice_in_wonderland alice_in_wonderland is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 2001
As a trained glass blower (no really!) I think it's pretty hard to pin down cause of death for professional glass blowers.

ALL of the glass blowers I know smoke (it's not to say that there are none that don't, but all the ones I've ever met do) - any sort of lung ailment would be hard to pin down to cigarette smoke, vs. inhaled dust.

Generally you try to select pigments and addatives that are less toxic than others, and when you're sandblasting stuff you make sure to wear an appropriate mask and other safety equipment to avoid inhaling too much glass dust, which really isn't very good for you.

I've never heard of a glass furnace exploding (or something equally dramatic) but I'm sure it happens sometimes - however, statistically I would assume at not a greater frequency than other workplace accidents.

Burns are very common - I've had many myself, both of the face, hands and lungs (a mouthful of really hot air stings going down).

So, yah, it certainly has it's hazards as a profession, but no more than many other types of art - I actually HAVE heard of kilns exploding and causing injury and damage, for instance.
Reply With Quote
  #4  
Old 09-11-2006, 05:50 PM
Broomstick Broomstick is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2001
Location: NW Indiana
Posts: 18,813
During my five years of earning an art degree I heard of the following deaths from various artistic causes (not all at my school, but I am reasonably sure all of them occured):

- death from exposure to Cibachrome chemicals (photographer not using proper safety gear)

- a death from someone passing out and going face-down into a tray of hypo solution (not clear if it was a matter of being overcome by fumes or exhaustion or some combinations of weirdness)

- death by clumsy mixing of cyanoprinting chemicals (produced hydrogen cyanide)

- death by being caught and dragged into a machine for mixing clay

- death by raku - this form of pottery firing produces carbon monoxide and must either be done outside or with heavy industrial protective processes. Did not happen in this case

- death from cadmium poisoning, cadmium being an oh-so-wonderful pigment that you do NOT want to introduce into your body through sloppy habits like eating with paint-covered hands.

The non fatal accidents included:

- Neuroglogical problems from chemical exposure in both photography and printing.

- skin/allergic reactions from exposure to dyes and paints

- chemical pneumonia from inhaling fabric dyes

- one mangled hand from an encounter with a table saw.

- various burns from molten metal and glass

- permanent lung damage from passing out inside an over-sized mold for a fiberglass sculpture during the lay-up process. They had to cut the guy out of the mold and apparently parts of it were stuck to him for several weeks while he was lying intensive care.

Those are just the ones I remember off the top of my head. So yeah, working in the arts can be hazardous to your health. Why should glass-blowing be an exception?
Reply With Quote
  #5  
Old 09-11-2006, 07:06 PM
Rico Rico is online now
Screwing the unscrutable.
Moderator
 
Join Date: Mar 1999
Location: Utah's Dixie
Posts: 4,731
Quote:
Originally Posted by metonymic
Does glass blowing lead to an early death?
Only if you get a pane in your stomach.

Sorry, someone had to say it. Carry on.
Reply With Quote
  #6  
Old 09-11-2006, 07:12 PM
commasense commasense is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Location: Las Vegas, NV
Posts: 5,163
Don't you mean a pane in the neck?
Reply With Quote
  #7  
Old 09-11-2006, 09:35 PM
Bill Door Bill Door is online now
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Nov 2003
Posts: 3,403
Well, blowing glass is going to require the Valsalva maneuver for extended periods, which can decrease the blood supply to the brain and can trigger cardiac arrythmias, weaken the intestinal walls and can lead to death. This is in the total absence of any toxins.

There's a recent thread on this concerning straining to have a bowel movement. The thread contains the lyrical phrase "Ring of Elvis" describing the lividity of the posterior following death on the toilet. You could search for it using that.
Reply With Quote
  #8  
Old 09-11-2006, 09:40 PM
jayjay jayjay is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Nov 2000
Quote:
Originally Posted by Broomstick
- death by being caught and dragged into a machine for mixing clay
*wince*

That's one of those things I wish to neither experience nor witness.
Reply With Quote
  #9  
Old 09-11-2006, 10:23 PM
CalMeacham CalMeacham is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: May 2000
Quote:
The main ingredients of glass are silica and lead. Sucking in those isn't going to be healthy. As for the funky chemicals used in coloured glass, they're bound to be toxic.
No, they're not. Most glass recipes don't include lead at all. I've made quite a bit of glass in my optics career, and never handled lead salts at all.

Lead is a common ingredient in crystal, though, which is the kind of glass they blow at Steuben in Corning and at Waterford in Ireland. Whether that results in significant exsposure to glass workers I don't know -- I would suspect not. And if the glass blowers get exposed, I'd expect the technicians handling it to get even more exposure, not to mention the guys doing the diamond-wheel cutting. Do these fuys have elevated rates of death as well?
Reply With Quote
  #10  
Old 09-12-2006, 12:52 AM
Mr. Rosewater Mr. Rosewater is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Aug 2006
Perhaps the deaths may result from Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis.

Might not be related, but you've got to admit it's a very long word.
Reply With Quote
  #11  
Old 09-12-2006, 10:33 AM
slaphead slaphead is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Feb 2005
Quote:
Originally Posted by metonymic
I was reading a thread on glass blowing at another message board, where a poster cautioned that glass blowers traditionally and currently die early deaths due to the inherant dangers of glass blowing, specifically with regard to the chemicals used/created/released in the process.
Hmmmm... To my personal knowledge traditional mouth-blown lead crystal is made in the US, the UK, Ireland, Sweden and Norway. Those are all countries where the health and safety authorities will take a keen and pressing interest in any industry where the workers are dropping dead at an early age due to toxic chemical exposure, not to mention lawyers and insurance companies. So while I'm certain there are particular hazards specific to the trade, just as there are for being a lumberjack, coal miner or rat exterminator, I'm a little sceptical that being a glassblower will automatically knock years off your life.
Reply With Quote
  #12  
Old 09-12-2006, 12:10 PM
metonymic metonymic is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 2005
Quote:
Originally Posted by slaphead
Hmmmm... To my personal knowledge traditional mouth-blown lead crystal is made in the US, the UK, Ireland, Sweden and Norway. Those are all countries where the health and safety authorities will take a keen and pressing interest in any industry where the workers are dropping dead at an early age due to toxic chemical exposure, not to mention lawyers and insurance companies. So while I'm certain there are particular hazards specific to the trade, just as there are for being a lumberjack, coal miner or rat exterminator, I'm a little sceptical that being a glassblower will automatically knock years off your life.

We're totally on the same page, slaphead -- it sounded suspicious to me too, hence this thread. However, I'm still having trouble finding any evidence either way...


Thanks for the help so far, everyone.
Reply With Quote
  #13  
Old 09-12-2006, 12:48 PM
Q.E.D. Q.E.D. is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Location: Richmond, VA
Posts: 22,536
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Door
Well, blowing glass is going to require the Valsalva maneuver for extended periods...
I don't think so. You don't have to blow very hard, and there isn't anything like the pressure in the thorax associated with Valsalva. During the Valsalva maneuver, you're strongly compressing the lungs against a closed glottis and not allowing any air to escape. This is the antithesis of glassblowing, where airflow is required.
Reply With Quote
  #14  
Old 09-12-2006, 02:00 PM
alice_in_wonderland alice_in_wonderland is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 2001
Quote:
Originally Posted by Q.E.D.
I don't think so. You don't have to blow very hard, and there isn't anything like the pressure in the thorax associated with Valsalva. During the Valsalva maneuver, you're strongly compressing the lungs against a closed glottis and not allowing any air to escape. This is the antithesis of glassblowing, where airflow is required.
Well, this isn't exactly wrong, but it's not exactly right either. When you're initially trying to get a bubble you are blowing against a pretty solid thing (ie - blob of glass) - depending on the size, you certainly can get the light headed, pressurized feeling associated with doing the Valsalva.

Certainly once you've started the amount of air pressure required is much, much less, but the initial burst can be fairly hard. Of course, if it's too hard then you blow the end right out of what you're making, so there you go.

It's a finesse sort of thing, really.

That being said, I don't imagine a lot of glass blowers burst things (other than the glass, that is.)
Reply With Quote
  #15  
Old 09-12-2006, 02:04 PM
Q.E.D. Q.E.D. is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Location: Richmond, VA
Posts: 22,536
Right, but Bill was talking about an extended duration, i.e., the entire operation.
Reply With Quote
  #16  
Old 09-12-2006, 02:18 PM
alice_in_wonderland alice_in_wonderland is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 2001
Quote:
Originally Posted by Q.E.D.
Right, but Bill was talking about an extended duration, i.e., the entire operation.
Yes - and that part is inaccurate for sure.
Reply With Quote
  #17  
Old 09-12-2006, 03:06 PM
daffyduck daffyduck is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Aug 2003
We all have different experiences, but I've never seen anyone but a rookie use lung power to start a bubble. You put a puff of air in the pipe and use a finger to cap the end and as the air inside the pipe heats up it expands a bubble. It's much faster and easier than trying to blow a starting bubble.

Barring accidents, the only real danger is from silicosis and then only for studio blowers who make their own glass. Most studio guys I know don't bother with batch and make glass from cullet. Even with batch, any chemicals released during the melt go up the flue. The blowers (gaffers) in commercial operations are highly skilled and their time is way too valuable to be wasted on the menial task of making batch. It's the minimum wage guys out back shoveling silica sand that need to worry about silicosis, not the blowers.

Oh yeah, the metallic salts used for color. Meh. I've handled these compounds all my adult life and simple care is all that is needed. The compounds used to color glass are the exact same compounds used to color pottery glazes and you can walk into any school anywhere that has pottery classes and find bags or jars of them sitting around in the open.

This myth is busted, IMHO.
Reply With Quote
  #18  
Old 09-12-2006, 11:13 PM
metonymic metonymic is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 2005
cool, thanks for the info, everyone!
I'll continue looking into silicosis and recent related stats, but aside from that, I think I'm satisfied that glass blowing, although dangerous, isn't definitively the early killer as purported.

myth busted, indeed.
Reply With Quote
  #19  
Old 09-12-2006, 11:40 PM
Squink Squink is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Oct 2000
Quote:
Originally Posted by metonymic
myth busted, indeed.
On the other hand, there's Popcorn Worker Lung.
FDA to audit microwave-popcorn safety:
Quote:
Federal food-safety enforcers plan to investigate whether consumers of microwave popcorn are at risk from breathing the same artificial-butter chemical that scientists have linked to the devastating "popcorn worker's lung" disease.
Reply With Quote
  #20  
Old 09-13-2006, 09:19 AM
metonymic metonymic is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 2005
wow, I spent the first five minutes at butterflavoringlunginjury.com convinced it was all an elaborate hoax. The URL alone is hilarious.

That it's not is pretty alarming...
Reply With Quote
  #21  
Old 09-13-2006, 11:27 AM
alice_in_wonderland alice_in_wonderland is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 2001
Quote:
Originally Posted by metonymic
wow, I spent the first five minutes at butterflavoringlunginjury.com convinced it was all an elaborate hoax. The URL alone is hilarious.

That it's not is pretty alarming...
Yah no kidding. Who would have thought that making popcorn was more dangerous than sticking your face up to a glass furnace?
Reply With Quote
  #22  
Old 09-13-2006, 01:34 PM
AskNott AskNott is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Mar 1999
Location: Anderson, IN,USA
Posts: 14,055
One non-hazardous condition some glassblowers get is Gillespie's Pouches. That's big, puffed-out cheeks. Some twenty years ago, a medical researcher noticed that jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie had cheeks like a glassblower. He asked Diz if he could study his face in the lab. Gillespie said he'd do it if the condition would be named after him. Now you know.
__________________
"You know what they say about sleeping dogs; you can't trust 'em." --Oliver Faltz
Reply With Quote
Reply



Bookmarks

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 05:11 PM.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2014, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.

Send questions for Cecil Adams to: cecil@chicagoreader.com

Send comments about this website to: webmaster@straightdope.com

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope!
(Your direct line to thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.)

Publishers - interested in subscribing to the Straight Dope?
Write to: sdsubscriptions@chicagoreader.com.

Copyright 2013 Sun-Times Media, LLC.