Art Concrete How-to
6: Hazards

THIS PAGE is one of several explaining techniques about how to use concrete in small-scale art projects.

Book: Concrete Handbook for Artists: Technical Notes for Small-scale Objects. More information?

This is not intended to be a comprehensive list of hazards about working with concrete or portland cement but tries to give you an overview. Cement is extremely caustic when mixed with water and not cured, so use common sense. This means it will burn your skin. Wear protective gloves and glasses or goggles. The dust, either from mixing cement and sand, or from sanding dry concrete, is toxic (free silica, chromium contaminants). Wear an appropriate mask or respirator (one approved for toxic dust). Always wet sand rather than dry sand whenever possible.

"Allergic dematitis" means that once you develop a sensitivity to cement, in the form of a skin allergy, you may not be able to use it any more. So use preventive measures to make sure you do not develop the sensitivity in the first place.

From Artist Beware by Michael McCann, Lyons and Burford, New York (ISBN 0823002950) [order from]:

Calcium oxide in Portland cement is highly corrosive to the eyes and respiratory tract and is moderately corrosive to the skin. Allergic dermatitis can also occur due to chromium contaminants in the cement. The silica in the cement is also highly toxic by inhalation. Lung problems from inhalation of Portland cement include emphysema, bronchitis, and fibrosis...The hazards from the stone dust depend on the type of stone [found in the aggregate]
[see also this excerpt about sculpture hazards from the book]

Another recommended book on safety for artists is The Artist's Complete Health & Safety Guide by Monona Rossol, Allworth Press, 1994, ISBN: 1880559188
[order from]

My own book, Concrete Handbook for Artists, has a chapter on hazards, and cautions on the use of most materials throughout the book.

These sealers are often solvent-based, and need a lot of ventilation when applying. Read the label carefully. Wear gloves, protect your eyes.
Although v-seal is water-based, clear and odourless the label does caution about slight irritation to skin and eyes, so wear rubber gloves. Ventilation is necessary as "it can cause headache, irritation of nose, throat and lungs."

Pozzolans such as metakaolin, silica fume or fly ash, are all silicates. Use a respirator approved for them. Silicates cause silicosis, a serious lung disease.

Read the labels and the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) that come with whatever product or additive you are using. If you don't have the MSDS, ask the manufaturer or supplier to give you a copy.

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Last update: 2016