Windows For The Soul
Safety And Environment in The Stained Glass Studio

Safety And Environment in The Stained Glass Studio

Public concern over the safety of working with lead and the effects of lead in the environment has resulted in strict government regulation for the use, handling and disposal of lead. Stained glass windows are held together with lead came, lead based solder and many are stained with lead based paints. The increased awareness and government regulation have resulted in much improved health and safety procedures for our industry's craftspeople, our clients, and the environment.

Bovard employee's have had their blood lead levels tested on a regular basis since the 1980's. We have a professional training program conducted by registered nurses specializing in occupational health and safety issues to instruct our staff on lead safety. Breathing lead dust (lead oxide) has four times the absorption rate into the bloodstream as ingesting lead. For this reason our studio's environment is constantly monitored for safe air lead levels. We have been very pleased with our track record and whenever one of our craftspeople tests with an elevated level of lead, we have found the main cause is careless hygiene, i.e. not washing their hands prior to smoking or eating.

The monitoring of lead levels in the studio environment has shown the highest risk area of lead exposure is during the restoration of historic stained glass windows. The glazing cement packed between the layers of the lead came, the old paint on the sash may contain lead oxide and of course the lead came and solder that hold the stained glass windows together contains lead.

We have initiated several techniques to reduce and/or eliminate the lead levels in the air of our restoration department. The main contributor to high levels of lead in the air in the studio environment is the lead dust (oxide) that was a main ingredient in traditional glazing cement. When old stained glass windows are disassembled for restoration this lead oxide is released into the air. Our first solution was to have our occupational health consultant fit our employees with respirators then we isolated the disassembly room and added a HEPA air filtration system.

Over the last two decades we have periodically invited the voluntary compliance unit of OSHA to visit our studio to help us comply with these very important health and safety regulations. A number of years ago OSHA intensified their regulations for the air quality in all areas of the workplace to meet safe use levels without the use of respirators. In order to meet this new regulation we had to become very creative with our restoration method. We developed a process where the stained glass windows to be restored are disassembled under water (see photos next page). This literally has prevented all of the lead dust from entering the environment's air and we are pleased to report that we have maintained excellent air quality in this area since implementing this system.

Above: Three views of an old stained glass window in need of restoration. The first step is to compose a photographic record and make a pattern rubbing.

Restoration technicians, JoLynn Tolson (top photo) and Mark Steele (bottom photo) carefully disassemble the windows underwater in our specially designed lead reclamation tank. The process is so clean the technicians do not need to wear respirators.

Now the lead dust goes into the water. However, you cannot simply discard lead contaminated water by letting it go down the drain. The EPA's requires a license to process contaminated wastewater, including the simple act of filtering the water for reuse. Our solution is to store the tainted water in tanks until they are shipped to a licensed toxic wastewater treatment facility. Our restoration facility now has excellent air quality and we are not contributing to the contamination of the environment with toxic wastewater.

We identified another problem area was during the removal of windows from their frame prior to restoration. We developed a process that uses a portable HEPA filter system that picks up lead dust that may fall off of the glazing cement, the lead came or the window sash that may come loose during removal of the stained glass windows.

Traditional formulas for glass paints and stains contain lead oxide. Many modern opaque painting formulas have successfully eliminated the lead content however, no one has come up with a formula to eliminate the lead content in the transparent color palate. Since we could not eliminate the use of lead oxide paints we had to devise a solution to protect our staff in the glass painting area. Initially we tried using portable HEPA filtering systems set up next to the workstations. Unfortunately we could not achieve consistent low lead air levels in the glass painting studio. We brought in professional help to design and install a large 18 foot (5.5 m) high HEPA filtration system with elaborate ductwork built into the artists' glass painting studio to clean the air. We literally had to raise the roof to install this air filter to meet OSHA's air quality regulations.

Lead in the environment is a serious concern. The EPA can and does issue very large fines for the improper disposal of lead. Years ago we would sell our scrap lead to a salvage yard for a few dollars and it was simply placed in a pile in the yard. We now know this is unacceptable. Laws and regulations have changed, fines have increased and over time the amount of lead allowed into the environment has been greatly reduced. Today the lead came manufacturers themselves have set up programs to recapture any scrap lead returning it directly back for recycling. We now ship our old lead in sealed metal barrels directly back to the lead smelter for recycling. Last year we returned almost14,000 lbs (6300 kg) of lead for recycling. This not only protects our workers and the environment from possible contamination but ensures that Bovard Studio and our clients are responsible environmental citizens.


"Patrick Otang our CFO in front of one of our storage tanks for the dirty water used in our leaded glass disassembly tables. The dirty water is shipped to a certified waste water treatment facility for recycling."

"Old lead came from stained glass restoration projects placed in 55 gallon drums to be shipped for recycling. Note: both our new aluminum and new lead contain significant amounts of recycled metals."

"A detail of our 18ft high HEPA filter that filters the lead particles from the air in our glass painting department with our artist Yuri Maltsev."

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