By Vince Henley
There has been a significant amount of interest in this subject in the last few days, so I have decided to post it all in one place for the convenience of future searches and reference.
Lampworkers are exposed to various particulates such as, but not limited to, enamels, various powders and dusts, dried bead release, and micro-shards of glass. Further, lampworkers may be exposed to metallic fumes from the application of metals such as copper, gold, silver, palladium and others. In addition to the fumes from metals directly applied to glass, metals and metallic oxides used in manufacturing glass may be volatilized by the flame. These might be such things as lead, copper, gold, iron, cobalt, chromium and others. Lampworkers are not generally exposed to organic vapors, but may be exposed to inorganic chemical vapors from such things as silver and gold salts and various irridizing compounds such as stannous chloride. Some of these are very toxic. The primary hazard of this type that most lampworkers will see are particulates such as enamels and metallic fumes such as gold and silver.
If one has excellent, industrial quality local exhaust ventilation, that removes all hazardous products from lampworking away from the artist's breathing zone immediately, then a respirator is probably not required. Sadly, most lampworkers do not have such ventilation systems and will have need of a respirator from time to time. The following NIOSH approved respirators are applicable to lampworking activities. There are links to information from the manufacturers at the end of this post for each of these.
3M 8233 N100 Particulate Respirator. This respirator is effective against particulates and metallic fumes from torch work. It is NIOSH certified to be 99.97% efficient and is specific for heavy metals such as lead, cadmium and arsenic. It is not certified for use in atmospheres containing oil aerosols, but almost no lampworking studios will have atmospheres with oil aerosols. This would be the disposable respirator of choice for lampworking. It is inexpensive, about $7.00, and has a reasonably long life and a comfortable fit.
3M 8293 P100 Particulate Respirator. This respirator is functionally identical to the 8233 described above and is also NIOSH approved. In addition, the 8293 is certified to be used in atmospheres containing oil aerosols.. Most lampworkers will not need this characteristic, but if the 8293 is available and the 8233 is not, then it is a perfect substitute. The price is similar.
The above respirators will work for most women and men without facial hair. If one has facial hair, as in a beard, then these respirators will not be able to achieve a facial seal, and since they have a somewhat negative pressure on inhalation, they will not be effective protection. Fortunately there is a solution for those with facial hair, but unfortunately it is expensive. The solution is called a fresh air respirator and it consists of an air pump, a hose and a full or half facial mask. The air pump can be located remotely, away from contaminated air, and it provides breathing air under positive pressure to the mask. Since the mask is under positive pressure, particulates and fumes cannot infiltrate the breathing zone and become a hazard. I have located what I believe to be one of the least expensive NIOSH approved fresh air respirators, as described below.
Axis Products, Inc. PRO AIR 40 NIOSH Approved Fresh Air Respirator. This unit comes with an air pump, 40 feet of air hose and a half facemask for one person. The air pump supplies fresh air through a HEPA filter to the facemask. There are various options, but the basic unit will serve nearly all lampworkers with no additional options. The list price for this unit is $699, but I have seen street prices of about $550.
The following are links to the manufacturer's information for all these units. In all cases one will need to either follow other links or download PDF files to see the specifications and additional information.
3M 8233 N100 Particulate Respirator
3M 8293 P100 Particulate Respirator
Axis Products, Inc. PRO AIR 40