September 05

Glass Work and Airborne Exposure

In recent news on the dangers of asbestos, the widow of a glass blower who died from lung disease related to asbestos exposure filed a lawsuit to seek settlement money to pay for his medical bills. Her husband had worked at Owens Glass plant as a glass blower, from the early ’50s to the late ’80s.

In his job as a glass blower, he was exposed to asbestos dust and other harmful dusts as the result of the manufacture and installation of asbestos-containing products.

The man likely used glass blower mitts that contained asbestos. Glassblower mitts are used by glass blowers to protect their hands when they are working with molten glass.

Glass blowing has many inherent risks that affect the health and physical well-being of the workers who manufacture, shape, and install glass day to day. In the case of this man who worked at a glass plant for 30 years, inhalation and exposure to asbestos caused him to succumb to a lung disease that would eventually take his life.

Asbestos is widely known to be a danger to worker health and we’ve made great strides over the years in mitigating the dangers of the deadly fiber by utilizing safe practices like the use of safety masks and thick gloves to prevent skin contact. The risk of asbestos related illnesses is not as great due to our current knowledge of the material.

What this story does bring into light is that there are many other airborne dangers that glass blowers will also come across in their daily activities.

Other threats to health outside of asbestos during the glassblowing process include:

  • Chemical fumes from the furnace:
    • When recycling glass in the furnace, residue on the glass will evaporate and if that residue is a toxic chemical it can be inhaled by nearby workers
  • Coloring minerals:
    • Glass blowers melt down minerals to use as coloring in their projects, the fumes of these minerals are highly toxic
  • Glass etching:
    • Hydrofluoric acid and fluoride salts are used to etch away glass, both chemicals are toxic if inhaled or contact is made with the skin or eyes
  • Sandblasting
    • Coarse sand containing a crystal called “silica” is used which if inhaled can cause a disease called “silicosis”, which can be fatal

Asbestos remains to be one of the most dangerous materials that glass workers can run into within their work days (though, due to our knowledge of the matter at this point, it is much less of a threat since we know how to handle it). However, it is important to remember that other airborne threats to worker health exist and that ventilation and safety masks must be used at all costs to prevent illness.

For more information, visit GlassPro.

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