When making handmade jewelry artisans are often exposed to hazardous and potentially poisonous chemicals. From toxic solutions to noxious fumes handcrafted jewelry artists should always be safe by knowing the compounds you are working with and the correct usage and disposal procedures.
We make copper handcrafted jewelry so we have experimented quite a lot with patinas that involve the use of liver of sulfur. Even though liver of sulfur (potassium polysulfide) is a hazardous substance in dry form (always read product warning labels), it becomes inert or non-reactive with exposure to air and moisture, and easily neutralized with baking soda so the bath can be safely disposed of down the drain. Flush the pipes with water for several minutes afterward. If you do not have access to water in your studio, neutralize the bath with baking soda, pour it into sawdust or kitty litter, let it dry outdoors and dispose of it in the garbage.
Make sure you work with liver of sulfur (LOS) in a well ventilated area because of the toxic fumes. Always wear rubber gloves, safety glasses and use tongs to manipulate your pieces in the LOS bath. You have seen the reaction with metal so obviously do not let this acid come into contact with your skin or eyes.
Also never add any type of acid to the active LOS bath or the gas will become terribly toxic. Sometimes it is tempting to add other compounds to LOS just to see the effects it can have such as ammonia (produces brighter colors), always use in well ventilated and controlled conditions.
Another common technique for creating handmade jewelry is etching which utilizes a nitric acid solution. If you remember high school chemistry class, nitric acid is an aggressive acid and baking soda is a weak base. Acids and bases will become neutral when mixed, but you will need much more baking soda by volume than nitric acid to get to neutral because of the different strengths. Baking soda is a necessary supply for all handmade jewelry studios.
When it comes to disposal the easiest method for neutralizing nitric acid etching solution is to add baking soda into the etching bath until it forms a small mountain. The baking soda will bubble like Alka-Seltzer until the acid is neutralized. A mountain of soda usually indicates enough and there is no need to test the ph. The acid bath is then neutral. Dilute with lots of water and pour it over the grass or flowers, since it is now capable of making the grass and flowers grow better. The neutralized nitric acid in the solution is a lot like commercial nitrogen fertilizer, and the dissolved copper in the bath will keep the slugs away as well.
Every day we make choices that are a part of the cycle of life. We all live together, sharing one earth. The choice to preserve and protect our environment only requires knowledge. Take steps now to implement safer and more environmentally friendly practices in your handmade jewelry studio, and in all aspects of your life.