Cadmium Solder AND Flouride fluxes…
Cadmium in solder and fluorides in fluxes can kill you. I am proof
In 2001, I took a job to silver solder three thousand parts made of
stainless steel. At a dollar a joint it was an easy way to make a
healthy chunk of money in three days…
At that point in time I had been metalsmithing for over 30 years,
and I DID know that cadmium and fluorides were not healthy for you.
I HAD separated out most of the old solders that we used way back
when, and changed over to solders with no cadmium or much lower
When it came time to do the job, I decided on a Friday, Saturday,
and Sunday. By the end of Friday I was running low on solder. I
rummaged around and found another spool of 5 ounces in the back of
the safe that contains my raw materials. Finished the job.
This was done under a fume hood, but the hood was an overhead model.
My face was within 10 to 12 inches of the work at all times. I was
using a paste fluoride flux - because that is/was the best flux to
get the silver solder to flow well on stainless.
Some of the errors that almost cost me my life (and may yet, someday
in the future) are as follows:
1. I was in a hurry.
2. I didn't check to see exactly what I had on hand to do the
job before I started.
3. I did not personally properly label the solder and put it
in an envelope or plastic zip lock. Date of purchase,
supplier, manufacturer, and alloy.
4. I did not have proper ventilation for that particular kind
of a job. I am now constructing a hood that pulls the fumes
BACK instead of up.
5. I probably could have taken more precautions - including a
face mask, researching for a fluoride free flux, setting up
the entire job outdoors, using a fan, etc.
6. I'm sure that some of you can add in here?
Almost exactly one year later I was diagnosed with cancer. After
undergoing three surgeries, radiation, and chemotherapy - which
also almost killed me twice - I began the slow recovery. After a
year, still not working at the bench, I started pottering around in
the shop, mostly cleaning up, organizing, repairing, sharpening,
and maintaining everything I’d accumulated over 30 years.
We had just moved a couple months before the cancer was diagnosed,
so it took months of doing this for a few hours each day, to get it
done. This was my “therapy” so to speak. It forced me to learn to
compensate for the loss of use in my right arm. This had been caused
by the removal of a nerve that controls the muscles that allow you
to lift your arm up to the side.
While cleaning out the safe for the first time in probably 20 years,
I found many things I’d forgotten I had, and other bits and pieces
on the floor of the safe. Amongst them was a scrap of paper. It was
the manufacturers label that had fallen off the 5 ounce spool of
silver solder. As you have probably guessed, it said it was
manufactured in 1969, and contained a large percentage of cadmium.
This was allowed back then.
About three months after all of the surgeries and therapies, I
attended my first Orchid dinner in Tucson in 2002. Though I have
been a member of this group since it began - I never seemed to find
the time to do much more than participate in the forum… Marta
Irwin and Glenda Dixon made that possible, by seeing to it that I
got there and back. (By the way, I met both Marta and then Glenda
because of Orchid.)
I don’t remember much of the dinner, I was still pretty wrecked by
the chemicals and drugs - but that was when I made up my mind that
I was going to survive. I weighed about 138 pounds when Hanuman
first met me. (Once upon a time I weighed around 180 - 190 - now I
have settled at 160) Little by little I have gotten back to the
bench, though I doubt that I will ever be able to work at it full
time. I can, however, still teach a few workshops every year… and
participate in this forum.
The majority of my work has always consisted of hand engraving and
stone setting. I found that I could not do that very well with the
new disability. After giving it some thought, I started
experimenting with various methods to support my arm while
engraving or stone setting. What I have come up with is a moveable
arm rest combined with a sling suspended by a cord and spring from
the ceiling. It took a while to find spring that had just the right
tension, and allowed me enough movement.
Still not an ideal arrangement, and doesn’t allow me to engrave or
set stones more than a couple of hours at time. At the end of about
two hours the sling tends to reduce too much of the blood
circulation. It is also still pretty cumbersome even after using it
for a couple years now. It does however, encourage me to think
through a job thoroughly, make sure that everything I need is
within reach, and I don’t waste any time once I put the sling on!
This experience with cadmium bearing solder and fluoride flux, plus
the combination of errors on my part has changed my life forever.
Don’t get lazy, don’t assume anything, and don’t get complacent that
what you’ve been doing all your life won’t hurt you. Take the
responsibility to KNOW what you are working with! If you have ANY
doubts at all that what you are using is as safe as you can make it
- DON’T do it! And please, stay the hell away from cadmium and
Brian P. Marshall
Stockton Jewelry Arts School
Stockton, CA USA