Arsenic is used in the glassmaking process to improve the glass's durability, clarity, and color. The arsenic compound most commonly used in glassmaking is sodium arsenite, which is added as a fining agent. Fining agents are substances added to molten glass to remove bubbles and impurities and to make the glass clearer and smoother. Sodium arsenite is particularly effective as a fining agent because it helps the glass melt at a lower temperature, reducing energy costs and emissions. However, the use of arsenic in glassmaking poses significant health risks to workers and consumers.
Exposure to arsenic can cause several acute and chronic health effects, including skin lesions, respiratory problems, cardiovascular disease, and various types of cancer. Workers involved in the glassmaking process, such as glass blowers, cutters, and grinders, are at higher risk of exposure to arsenic than the general population. They can inhale arsenic dust or vapor while handling raw materials or the melting, cutting, or finishing of glass products. Consumers can also be exposed to arsenic in glassware, mainly if the glass is not properly coated or treated.
Several precautions must be taken to protect workers and consumers from the health risks associated with arsenic exposure. First, glass manufacturers must establish a comprehensive arsenic management program that includes risk assessment, exposure monitoring, and control measures. These control measures may include engineering solutions such as ventilation systems and personal protective equipment such as respirators and gloves. Workers must also receive proper training on the risks of arsenic exposure and the correct handling and disposal of materials.
Consumers can also take some precautions to minimize their exposure to arsenic in glassware. One way is to choose glass products coated with a protective layer that prevents the leaching of arsenic into food & beverages. Another way is to avoid using or storing acidic or hot liquids in glass containers, as they can accelerate the release of arsenic. Washing glassware thoroughly before use is also recommended to remove any potential residue.
Arsenic is an essential component in the glassmaking process because it improves glass quality. However, the rising use of arsenic in glassmaking also presents significant health risks to workers and consumers. To mitigate these risks, glass manufacturers must develop comprehensive arsenic management programs, and workers must receive the proper training and protection. Consumers can also take some precautions to minimize their exposure to arsenic in glassware.