There are over a million hobby Opal cutters spread around the world. There are so many people who want to try cutting opal rough as it is so enjoyable. The end result can be a beautiful bright Opal. Many Opal cutters can make their own equipment or have purchase machines for cutting and polishing but they should be aware of some hidden dangers.
Opal has a compositions of silica and this silica can cause problems in the lungs.
Silicosis can vary in severity and may take years to develop resulting in shortness of breath, dry cough and may cause a heart attack as the heart has to work harder to pump the blood.
Silica is s found also on many constructions sites as it can be in the sand, concrete, masonry and granite. If these materials are sawn it produces dust that can contain crystalline silica particles.
This respirable silica dust causes lung disease and lung cancer if the opal cutter does not have enough water flowing on his cutting wheels or inadequate air extractionThe cuter may expose themsleves to these fine particles of silica.
National safety guidelines has exposure rates at extremely low levels and this demonstrates how dangerous these particles can be.
Exposure Level (REL) of 0.02 mg/m3. So small. Respirable silica particles are hard to see because the particles are so fine.
When cutting opal, many cutters are heavy handed in pushing opal to cut on the diamond tip wheels with low grits below 180. These diamond wheels do really eat at the potch and many cutters are keen to get rid of this potch and rub down too hard so that not enough water covers the wheel and dust flies into the face of the opal cutter.
I have seen this many times and even with large water flow running over the wheels you can still see the air covered in minute particles potch or silica. Even dark potch can contain silica and silica is present in quartz also.
Some cutter make homemade polishing wheels using sandpaper on dob sticks or piston heads and these can have rubber added so its flexible to polish an undulating boulder opal. Dry polishing really needs commercial air extractors not a household vacuum as it is not strong enough to clean the particle’s in the air.
Water can be problem also. When cutting opals water is your friend and always have plenty water. But stale water can affect your health also. Many cutters keep rough opal in jars of water so you can see any opal colours better. And in cutting factories you will see old stale water lying in water troughs at back of cutting machines. Stale water can quickly contain dangerous Pathogenic Microoganisms.
Patrik at Rollingstoneopals experienced this when working with parcels of rough opal. He was in hospital for weeks and had a serious liver infection. They were really surprised that he had this condition and was seriously sick and jaundice.
They actually thought he had been to third world country and drank water as it was a Parasite infection from Drinking water contaminated with encysted metacercaria that effected his liver. Yes sounds bad and is bad! Infected water must have splashed into his mouth as obviously you would not drink water in your cutting equipment
All opal cutters should realize the hazards of cutting opals.
The Queensland Government Public health guidelines state that: “Amorphous silica is not regarded as cancer causing agent”But im not sure hat they understand the cutting process involved with opal. So always have clean well designed cutting room and enjoy rubbing down opals safely
Home made opal cutting equipment and water bucket above to drip feed water under pressure.
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Patrik is fine now and always wears a mask and has commercial air extractors in his cutting rooms.
Enjoy cutting your opals is a safe enviroment