Dust in ceramics studio could pose health risks



Ceramics teacher Andrew Maglathlin works on a clay sculpture in the ceramics studio, which is potentially at risk from dust.

Andrew Maglathlin comes to school every day with a passion for ceramics and a love of teaching. However, his worries about the dust in his studio settle into the back of his mind and stay there until he leaves.
Silica is a carcinogenic particle with the capability to stay airborne for days. For students, there is no harm or health risk at all. But for a teacher who spends all day exposed to it, the potential effects could be serious.
“Those superfine particles will potentially get stuck and your lungs cannot rid of it themselves,” Maglathlin said. “You’ll breathe things in all the time that probably aren’t great for your lungs, but your lungs can eventually expel or somehow remove them. With silica [your lungs are] unable to do that, so scar tissue forms around the silica. That can lead to a medical condition called silicosis.”
In terms of prevention, hygiene plays a crucial role, one that Maglathlin has worked hard to educate administrators and janitorial staff about.
“I’ve worked with the custodians. I make sure that they don’t sweep. If they’re sweeping that’s obviously going to create a ton of dust. I work with them to try and find better ways to clean the floors and clean the dust up, and I’m still trying to find ways to make this space cleaner and healthier,” he said.
Visual Arts Curriculum Coordinator Alicia Mitchell is also well aware of and involved in the issue. Her love for the program and support for its participants have pushed her to advocate for a close look at the effect of dust accumulation.
“No dust is really good for anybody to be breathing in,” she said. “It’s not good for anybody to breathe that in, but for someone like Mr. M who will be in there 5 or 6 periods a day, that’s where you really have to pay attention.”
For Mitchell, it’s extremely important that everyone involved is aware and educated on this issue.
“I think we should pay attention to his schedule, we should make sure there are breaks and we should make sure that everyone who uses the space is aware. Don’t turn on the fan because it blows the dust everywhere,” Mitchell said. “It’s just the general awareness of all the users is very helpful and certainly all of our custodial help by understanding the rigor of cleaning that room so that we don’t create this buildup of dust that’s unhealthy for the teacher.”
According to sophomore Hope Leschly, a former student of the class, the accumulation of dust does not impact students.
“It did not affect my learning or my creativity. The dust was never a concern to me because I knew it wasn’t an issue for my health because I wasn’t in ceramics that often, and it didn’t affect my ability to work in the class,” Leschly said.
The school will pay for upcoming air quality tests to judge the safety of the classroom, Mitchell and Maglathin said.
Maglathlin is in good health right now and this issue doesn’t dominate his thoughts, but it’s a concern that he lives with and will continue to advocate for.
“It doesn’t necessarily affect how I’m going to go over and help this student right now,” Maglathlin said. “But it’s always in the back of my mind of ‘what is the air like right now in this space? Am I doing myself harm by breathing it in or is this air healthy?’”