glassybaby and pollution, part 1

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As we introduce sustainable blooms, a new collection of flower-inspired glassybaby, we want to do a little sustainability soul-searching. For something to be sustainable, it must not cause serious harm to the environment and the people of earth. In light of the pollution scandal down in Portland, Oregon, we examined the potential impacts of our own glass production system. This first post examines our own hot shop in Madrona. Next week, we will post about one of our glass color-bar suppliers in Portland, Uroboros, and how the pollution scandal relates to them.

Whenever she talks about glass, Raya’s eyes open extra wide and her energy gets a little electric. When we spoke over lunch a few weeks ago, I couldn’t tell she was tired, but she was: the night before, she’d been house-sitting for a friend in Seattle’s Greenwood neighborhood, when an explosion woke her up in the middle of the night. Across the street, nine firefighters were injured when a natural gas leak lit up. Three businesses were utterly destroyed. All the windows in the surrounding blocks shattered, raining glass that became a sharp hazard that had to be cleaned up.

Raya and I were meeting in the aftermath of another, more gradual and sinister disaster, where glass production became a hazard. Down in Portland, the Forest Service had been testing patches of moss, looking for woodsmoke particulates; instead they found dangerous levels of toxic or carcinogenic heavy metals (lead, arsenic, cadmium, chromium and fluorine) concentrated near two glass production companies.

All of these compounds are used to make particular colors and opacities of glass. Since the heavy metal news came out, we at glassybaby have received several inquiries about our own glass manufacturing processes and pollution.

Raya is the head of glass research and development at glassybaby. First of all, she told me, our hot shop isn’t hot enough to “volatize” these heavy metals. When we melt a glass color bar to blow it into a glassybaby, our furnace burns at a maximum of 2,300 degrees. The heavy metals listed above stay solid up to 2,450 degrees: so we release no heavy metal particulates.

In 2012, inspectors from the Washington State Department of Labor and Industry attached monitors to glassblowers working in our hot shop. They detected no elevated exposure to pollutants or increased risk of illness. We don’t pollute our neighborhood, and we also don’t pollute our workers.

Manufacturing glass, Raya said, is not more inherently dangerous than many other industrial processes. For instance, chromium is also used (you might have guessed) in chrome car parts. If the right precautions are taken, the risk of pollution can be almost entirely mitigated.

glassybaby was born to help cancer patients heal. It would blatantly clash with our core values to emit carcinogens into the air around us, and so we don’t. The cost of doing things the right way is worth it.

After our conversation, Raya walked over to our Madrona hot shop. It’s a fun place to hang out. We invite you to come over, breathe the air, and watch the glassblowers work.

Check back next week for part 2, a tour of the Uroboros Glass Studio in Northeast Portland, and a discussion of the pollution scandal down there.