The mined materials and energy intensive processes that are fundamental to most ceramics make it difficult for the art to be completely "environmentally friendly." Potters and artists should look for ways to improve their practices, energy use, and sourcing of materials, in addition to paying careful attention to possible toxins in glazes and emissions from the firing process.
For more disscussion on the idea of "green ceramics" and how we might be able to get closer to this goal, read potter Laura Zindel's findings in the article here.
Safety in the Ceramics Studio
Chemicals and materials used should be especially considered if the finished product could be used for food or drink.
Ceramics Hazards And Their Control
A description of the potential dangers in a ceramics studio, covering all steps of the process.
Clay, Glaze and Firing Toxic Materials List
A list of dangerous chemicals that can be found in clays and glazes.
Potter Warren MacKenzie's Enduring Craft
An interview with an older potter who has lung problems due to inhaling dust from the ceramics. This type of lung problem is very common across the arts.
Ceramics Safety Manual
A thorough guide to the different possible dangers and hazards one might face in the ceramics studio. Put out by the Harrisburg Area Community College.
This HAZMAP database page contains links to information on chemicals commonly used in ceramics.
Polymer clay contains polyvinyl chloride, colorants and plasticizers, traditionally phthalate esters. Each of these chemicals has dangers associated with it; however, when the clay is used properly, studies observed no harmful effects. Many manufacturers reformulated their products when the US Consumer Products Safety Commission banned the use of 6 specific phthalate esters in children’s products. As an example, all Sculpey clays marketed toward children now use citrates instead of phthalates as a plasticizer. It is often difficult to find out what chemicals are now being used as plasticizers, as they are typically not listed on MSDS sheets. Also note that products marketed to professionals may still contain those phthalates.
When using this clay, it is important to remember to monitor the clay when it is cooking (curing) and to never heat it too high or leave it in too long. This clay should also never be used to contain food or given to a child who might put it in his/her mouth. You should also never heat the clay while food is also in the oven.
Hidden Hazards - Health Impacts of Toxins in Polymer Clays
A report of the toxicity of phthalates in polymer clay. Explains about the ingredients in polymer clay and notes health concerns about PVC and phthalate esters (note that this report was released in 2002, prior to CPSC’s restrictions on the use of certain phthalates in children’s products). Report is well referenced, especially regarding health effects of phthalates, although products currently marketed for children (and likely some professional products) will contain different plasticizers than the ones found in the PIRG study.