Many of us associate asbestos with occupations such as construction and pipe-fitting. Over the decades, though, asbestos has been used in varying degrees in many other professions.
Lost-wax casting is an ancient molding procedure that has been employed in various lines of work. It is used to form a shape in a wax mold. Jewelers, dentists, artists, and art students have been known to utilize this method in their work. Asbestos was sometimes used in the process, which put users at risk of inhaling the fibers. When asbestos fibers are inhaled, they can become trapped in the lungs and can result in future development of diseases such as asbestosis, mesothelioma, and lung cancer.
The lost-wax process is commonly used in crafting fine jewelry out of sterling silver and gold. In the past, this has been the source of asbestos exposure. For jewelers, asbestos exposure may have also occurred as a result of soldering in their jewelry-making. Jewelers would often use protective asbestos plates during soldering, which they would cut out with their hands. Soldering would eventually break the plates down, causing asbestos fibers to become airborne.
In dentistry, casting is used to create corrective dental pieces such as crowns, bridges, and inlays. The lost-wax method became widespread in dentistry in 1907 with the introduction of the process through the casting machine. Asbestos was used to line casting rings. Ceramic and absorbent paper components can serve as safe substitutes.
In the Arts
Artists have used lost-wax casting in their creations. Students have also sometimes employed this technique in art classes, specifically when sculpting. Other potential asbestos hazards in the sculpting process include use of serpentine, soapstone, and greenstone as casting stones. In addition, heat-resistant gloves were sometimes made from asbestos in years past.
Since knowledge of the dangers of asbestos has become more widespread, use of asbestos has widely declined. Substitutions of alternative, non-asbestos containing materials should be made whenever possible. The Chicago Artists Resource, for example, recommends using alabaster in place of soapstone in sculpting.
However, those who used products containing asbestos in the past may be at risk of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses. These can take decades to appear, so anyone exposed in the past should be aware of potential symptoms.