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Important Facts About Asbestos Exposure for Jewelry Makers
- Jewelry makers need hot temperatures to mold and melt pieces of jewelry together. Asbestos was used as a clay-like substance to hold the pieces together during this process.
- There is a report of a known case of mesothelioma for a jewelry maker. The patient worked in the industry for 35 years.
- Asbestos is no longer used today to make jewelry, but mesothelioma cancer can take up to 50 years to develop, meaning some former jewelry workers are at risk.
Why Asbestos Was Used in Jewelry Making
Asbestos is a fire-resistant and durable mineral, which made it appealing for numerous industries, including jewelry-making. In order to mold and shape the jewelry, it must be heated to high temperatures. Asbestos was durable and fire-resistant, which made it a suitable material for this industry.
Molding and melting jewelry together is the basis of jewelry-making. This process, known as soldering, is the joining of metal parts together using molding compounds and requires hot temperatures. Asbestos was often part of the molding compound.
Jewelers often mixed dry asbestos fibers with water to create “a clay-like blob,” according to the website Ganoskin, a jewelry-making resource. Jewelers used the clay-like asbestos mixture to hold metal pieces together during the soldering process.
Although asbestos likely aided jewelry makers in their work processes, it was an extreme hazard to have the substance in the workplace. Unfortunately, most jewelers were unaware of the dangers of occupational asbestos exposure.
The Dangers of Asbestos for Jewelry Makers
Asbestos is a dangerous carcinogen. It can cause lung cancer, ovarian cancer and mesothelioma. In fact, it is the only known cause of mesothelioma, which is a rare cancer that forms in the thin linings of the lungs or abdomen. The only way cancer forms here is by toxic asbestos fibers entering the body (by inhaling or ingesting) and irritating the tissue cells.
If asbestos breaks apart during the jewelry soldering process, the loose fibers float invisibly through the air. Any jewelry maker can unknowingly inhale or swallow these sharp fibers, which allows them to travel to the thin linings.
Jewelers also used asbestos cloth (sometimes called a soldering cloth) during the soldering process as well as anytime they needed to handle a hot piece or use the cloth to cool it. Sometimes jewelry makers would use asbestos gloves or mitts.
For most of the 20th century, the dangers of asbestos were not known by the general public, including jewelry makers. Asbestos was considered a profitable material due to its inexpensive price tag and accessibility. However, once the risks became public in the 1980s, most industries moved away from using the mineral.
Unfortunately, mesothelioma has a long latency period, meaning it takes 20-50 years to develop. Some jewelry makers who worked at the end of the 20th century may still be at risk of the disease.
Asbestos in Gemstone Jewelry
Gemstones are another type of jewelry potentially containing asbestos, which means making gemstone jewelry is also a hazard for asbestos exposure. People who own and wear gemstones may be exposed if the stones break and release loose fibers.
The gemstones containing asbestos include:
- Tiger’s eye
- Cat’s eye
- Hawk’s eye
Reported Case of Mesothelioma for Jewelry Makers
The American Journal of Industrial Medicine published a report back in 1992 documenting the first known jewelry industry-related mesothelioma case.
The report says a 61-year-old man was diagnosed with mesothelioma after working for 35 years in the jewelry industry. According to the report, the patient’s official job duties involved making asbestos soldering forms at a jewelry production facility.
“Asbestos is a real problem for jewelers,” the article’s author, Charles Lewton-Brain, states. “When I was first a student in 1974, we had a bucket of loose asbestos fibers under the soldering bench.”
Two types of asbestos fibers (amosite and chrysotile) were used at the facility while the patient worked there. The patient developed pleural mesothelioma cancer due to loose asbestos fibers in the lining of his lungs, which is called the pleura. This thin lining is near the lungs, and most people with the cancer struggle with breathing issues.
In this particular case, the patient underwent an extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP), which is a surgery to remove the diseased lung. He worked at the jewelry facility for up to three weeks prior to the surgery.
The American Journal of Industrial Medicine concluded its report by saying it initiated a “public health campaign to replace asbestos soldering forms … with readily available, safer alternatives.”
What to Do About a Mesothelioma Diagnosis
If you worked in the jewelry industry and have mesothelioma, contact our patient advocate team. They can help you learn if your occupational history is the root of your disease. They can also help you find treatment options at a top cancer center or learn about legal options to recover money for medical bills.
Email our patient advocate and registered nurse, Karen Ritter, at [email protected] to uncover the truth about your mesothelioma diagnosis.
- Malignant mesothelioma in the jewelry industry. American Journal of Industrial Medicine. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1316719. Accessed: 10/18/19.
- The Jewelers and Asbestos. Ganoskin. Retrieved from: https://www.ganoksin.com/article/the-jewelers-and-asbestos/. Accessed: 10/18/19.