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Environmental implications of TSP

May John Burgess, or other Orchid chemistry guru please comment on the

Environmental implications of TSP.

Pros and cons Re: sulfuric acid vs. sparex, citric acid, alum,
vinegar and salt, etc.

Riccardo Accurso
Ricco Gallery of Contemporary Art Jewelry
125 W German St /PO Box 883
Shepherdstown, WV 25443-0883

I’m sure John Burgess will write also, but I am maybe a bit more
familiar with the environmental problems. Quite a few years back, with
the advent of detergents (to replace soap) they discovered that the
phosphates were great fertilizers for some plants, and when they get
into the waterways they can quite quickly become totally clogged with
lush growth. Not just pondds, etc. but running streams.

As far as sulfuric acid, etc; I think it’s mainly a matter of
personal preference (and cost); but sulfuric acid (even in quite
dilute form, will eat holes in your clothes, and can cause painful
burns to the skin. citric acid will not. I haven’t tried it, so don’t
know just how well it does for this purpose, but it it’s not too
expensive I should think it would be a good alternative. Sparex is
very similar to “swimming pool acid” (that you use in your swimming
pool.) They should all be neutralized (with baking soda or some such)
before you dump them wherever. I should think citric acid would be
much less harmful, when dumped, than sparex, and definitely much less
than sulfuric acid. It also does not chew on metals as badly as
sulfuric. HTH Margaret

G’day; You rang milord?

  1. I ain’t no blinkin’ guru!

2)TSP - trisodium phosphate. (or any other water soluble
phosphates). TSP is a strong alkali and not good for the hands, but
good for cleaning down old paintwork. Wear rubber gloves, or you’ll
get ‘cement worker’s hands’. (cracked and painful) Soluble
phosphorus containing compounds promote prolific growth of algae and
many waterway-choking weeds. Which is why washing powder
manufacturers no longer use it in their formulae. Thus an excess of
phosphate in the environment is NOT a good thing. But don’t go
overboard with this: remember that our bones and teeth contain quite a
bit of phosphorous, and that plant life must have some too.

  1. Sulphuric acid v Sparex >From a metalsmith’s viewpoint, these
    are used for clearing the work of oxides after heating. Both work
    well, but Sparex works best when heated. They both work due to the
    hydrogen ion in their molecule (H2SO4 & NaHSO4) which grabs on to
    oxygen in the oxides, forming water and a metal sulphate. Alum
    (potassium or aluminium sulphate - there are several) also contain the
    hydrogen ion and works well as a pickle. Not very poisonous and the
    spent liquor also contains metals. Acids are very soon neutralised in
    the environment - long before they get to the sewage treatment plants,
    mainly because they form only a tiny part of the total effluent. The
    strength used by jewellers is around the 10% mark. The metal content
    of spent pickle is very small. However, the best method of disposal
    is to mix the spent liquor with sawdust, shavings, or ‘kitty litter’,
    spread it over a tray and wrap it in newspaper when dry and dispose of
    it in the local trash tip (Landfill?). Where it is so miniscule when
    compared with the old cars, refrigerators, and similar junk that it
    makes no difference.

4 Citric acid is a food acid and so is vinegar; both have the
necessary hydrogen atom in their molecule. The end product is a
metal citrate or metal acetate. Salt (NaCl) also provides a chlorine
ion, so there would be some metal chlorides in the spent pickle. All
these things are obviously harmless unless ingested in large
quantities. (There are records of child death and severe sickness
when they have been forced to drink large amounts of salt solution as
a punishment by so-called ‘care givers’!) If one is worried about
adding the metal content of such pickles to the environment, use the
sawdust disposal method.

Don’t be confused by the word ION. It simply means an atom or part
of a molecule which has an electric charge. When a metal salt is
dissolved in water, it IONISES which means it breaks up into it’s
positive and negatively charged parts. Thus, in the typical case of
copper sulphate, CuSO4, the copper CAT-ION is positively charged and
the SO4 AN-ION is negatively charged. Which is why electroplating
works; the metal ion, being positively charged is attracted to the
negative wire of a battery, and the acid sulphate part is attracted to
the positive wire.

Ok, so I agree that I have exceeded my ‘brief’ here (though I tried
to be as brief as I could) but thought a simplified technical
explanation might assist thinking. No?

John Burgess; @John_Burgess2 of Mapua Nelson NZ

1) I ain't no blinkin' guru!

I wouldn’t be so sure of this–you know, beauty is in the eye of the

  1. Sulphuric acid v Sparex >From a metalsmith’s viewpoint, these
    are used for clearing the work of oxides after heating. Both work
    well, but Sparex works best when heated.

Total confusion now reigns. I was taught that when we mixed up a
batch of Sparex we were making a batch of dilute sulfuric acid.
Sparex is sodium bisulfate. I don’t use Sparex any more, I use Rio
Pickle which is also sodium bisulfate. So, to quote my husband,“When
all else fails–read the directions!” My Rio Pickle directions read
"Warning! Contains Sodium Bisulfate. Releases Sulfuric Acid on
contact with water. So essentially are these two not the same in
solution? I always knew I’d regret dropping that college chemistry

Barbara Gillis in beautiful Lisbon, Ohio where the sun is finally
shining during the coolest, wettest spring we’ve had in years.

All, A word about Environmentalism. I received my training in
environmental analysis in the University System of the US. We
trained heavily in scientific environmental analysis. Our emphasis
was to determine the scientific cause and effect of human
interactions with environment. After 2-5 years of study on different
problems we determined the at least 200 years of detailed
observations would be required to begin to understand the
implications of the problems. The most difficult part of our task
was to filter the negative response from the human factor that
demanded an immediate fix to the perceived problem. The fix often
made more difficult our understanding of the true problem.
Enviromental-political terrorism took over. It was very interesting
how the “Acid Rain” problem in the North Eastern United States
coincided exactly with the proclamation of “Forever Wild” in the
Adirondack State Park. Vast tracks of land were removed from any
kind of influence by man in large numbers. Factories in the mid west
United States were forced to close or undertake very expensive
modifications. To this date no one knows for sure what is the cause
of the dying of coniferous trees in the Adirondack Forest. Humans
always want the quick fix. Environmental problems need solid
analysis and middle of the road response. Not knee jerk in either
way. The point is - Beware of anyone whom cries out passionately about
an environmental issue. They more than likely have their own self
interest ahead of learning about what is truly going on in the

Gerry Galarneau

Dear Gerry,

Your logic on environmentalism is well stated, but, I have some
serious reservations. Would you, for example, while sitting under a
tall tree, upon noticing a large limb falling on you, call for a
comittee meeting to discuss the probable consequences ? ( Personally,
I would get the hell out of there ! )

Furthermore, if you notice that deforestation is causing soil loss
would you not take remedial steps ?

My point is that , while it is well and good that objective thought
be given to finding the causes and cures for environmental
disasters, there are times when sitting about picking lint out of our
navels is pure folly. Mans’ depredation of the environment is real
and is escalating and we had better devote massive resources to
monitoring and understanding its consequences…and, we mustn’t be
lackadasical about it and assume that the academics will cure it, or
that the politicians will avert it or that “divine providence” will
intervene. Ron at Mills Gem, Los Osos, CA.

    Total confusion now reigns.  I was taught that when we mixed up
a batch of Sparex we were making a batch of dilute sulfuric acid.
Sparex is sodium bisulfate.  I don't use Sparex any more, I use Rio
Pickle which is also sodium bisulfate. 

G’day Barbara; So, you are still using bisulphate; that is, the SO4
sulphate ion. Bisulphate isn’t sulphuric acid, although in the way
jewellers use it as pickle, it has the same effect as dilute
sulphuric acid.

    My Rio Pickle directions read "Warning!  Contains Sodium
Bisulfate. Releases Sulfuric Acid on contact with water. So
essentially are these two not the same in solution? 

Sodium bisulphate and sulphuric acid are NOT the same thing; they
just have similar effects in certain situations. For instance if
bisulphate solution were substituted for battery acid in a car
battery, it wouldn’t work half as well, but it would still produce a
little electricity.

 I always knew I'd regret dropping that college chemistry class. 

I have always believed that elementary chemistry and physics are
essential tools for the ordinary person in modern life. Trouble is,
the teachers take it too far in the direction of theory and not
enough in the practice. For instance, why does solid concrete wear away
just with wind and rain? Why does a kettle get scale in it in certain
districts and not others? And so on.

Curiosity is a valuable commodity, despite it’s record for killing
cats! Cheers, –

John Burgess; @John_Burgess2 of Mapua Nelson NZ

Ron, When the actions are tainted with personal goals that wreak havoc
on both environment and the economy then the actions should be
stopped. Much environmental destruction has taken place because
companies have been forced into postures that do not allow them to
correct their actions. They either shut down or fight in court and
continue the destruction. Either way the damage is not contained or
stopped. To me a much more viable way of solving environmental
problems would be a hand in hand approach by the company and the
government (we the people). My tax dollars would be much wiser spend
working with a company to solve the problems, than in endless
litigation. Regional government nonprofit reclamation stations for
toxic substances would be a step in the right direction. This would
ease the toxic waste disposal problems faced by so many industries.
Most industries have honestly operated in the best interest of the
environment and the people whom worked at the company. Many
companies had no idea that their actions where hazardous. Some
companies did know they were hazardous, but had no way to fix the
problems. As problems are discovered we should help the industry
solve them instead of closing down, losing jobs, destroying
communities, and making very rich lawyers. It is not as easy as an
immediate fix. Yes, the logging should stop because top soil is
washing away rapidly, but what got us here? Working together we can
have logging, good soil, spotted owls, deer, etc… Working for our
own self interests will destroy more of our valuable resources than
it will save.

Gerry Galarneau


I think there are rabid environmentalists and head-in-the-sand
advocates of no-change-at-all, and we must guard against both.
However, as regards acid rain, I think there were some pretty clear
data, if I remember my reading correctly, of pH in wilderness lakes
changing drastically. I would be interested in hearing if you have
data to the contrary.

In my region, where the Great Smokey Mountains National Park is
located, we have the wooley adelglid (I hope I’ve got that spelling
close) killing off most all the balsam firs in the Park. Now, how
long have these trees been there, and why hasn’t the adelglid had
favorable conditions before? I think it doesn’t take a genius to
suspect man-made environmental changes, causing either a weakening of
the trees or a more favorable environment for the pest.

Also, it is now a matter of fact that we have more and more unhealthy
atmosphere days in the Park due to ozone pollution. Our regional
utility, the TVA, tries to blame the ozone on cars and industrial
emissions from the Midwest drifting here, but it is more likely at
least partly due to the emissions from our coal-fired power plants.
We also have a marked lowering of visibility most days due to haze.
The Great Smokies have become the Great Hazies. The smoke of the
name is low lying wispy clouds which still occur after a good rain
and don’t really impede visibility. Now, however, there is a
pervasive haze which occurs most days and gets worse the longer a
high pressure system sits over the area.

When I first moved to this area (1968), it wasn’t uncommon to find
the remnants of years of residential coal heating as thick dust and
cinders on attic windowsills long undisturbed. We were heedless of
that back then, and of black lung and other problems. Just because
some take the issue too far is no reason to close our eyes to what is
REALLY, REALLY happening in our own backyards. Fortunately we now
have the option to purchase “green power” (at a higher rate) locally,
which can have some impact on the situation eventually, as can
lobbying against TVA policies.

I apologize for taking up bandwidth here with this issue, but I think
it is seriously important enough that the subject, once broached,
deserves response. I drive across the ridges of the Cumberland
Plateau every week, and you only have to see the view in that country
once after a really good rain has cleaned the air pretty well to
wonder what it was like a hundred years ago . . . and also how long
it will be, if ever, before it is that way again . . .

Best Regards,

As a side note…The woolly adgelid is a nonnative insect from Asia.
It has been a real problem in New England as well. There is no
natural enemy or natural control for this insect in this country. It
has nothing to do with environmental changes or a weakening of the
forest in general. However, it is a man-made problem as it was a
human who accidentally or ignorantly introduced the pest. It is
taking advantage of the fact that our forests aren’t very well

Larry Seiger

Dear Gerry, I wish I could agree with your suggestion that the
solution to environmental problems might be a hand in hand approach
between government and industry, but I am afraid that the approach we
are now using is that of hand in pocket.

As long as we continue to allow the manipulation of politicians by
under the table “gifts” and as long as the politicians continue the
practices of pork barrel politics,we are going to fall on the short
side of enlightened self-interest. Ron at Mills Gem, Los Osos, CA.

    I have always believed that elementary chemistry and physics
are essential tools for the ordinary person in modern life. 

I started playing around with metals quite late. However, one reason
why I was able to get up to some speed was the result of taking first
year chemistry and physics courses. So, if you have the chance, and
there is a local college near by, may I recommend that you consider
attending an evening course or two in these subjects. It will be well
worth it.

David in Victoria

    As a side note...The woolly adgelid is a nonnative insect from
Asia. It has been a real problem in New England as well. 

I’m sure you have more pests than that. But consider the case in New
Zealand. Two tiny islands in the remote Pacific, where until about
150 years ago the only mammals were a bat and the Maoris - and the
latter had only been here about 400 years. So what? Well; now we have
so many introduced pest (Apart from humans) that you need to be an
alien to have enough digits to count them. I give a very brief list,
and although like, say, rabbits, they don’t sound very innocuous;
believe me, they really are. Part of the problem is that for many
millions of years, NZ was near no land mass at all, so the only
indigenous creatures we have are those that fly, a number that forgot
how to fly, and a very few that crawl, including a few that survived
after NZ broke away from the vast proto continent called Gondwanaland
(e.g the tuatara, kiwi, etc.) These real NZers never had to contend
with many predators. Now, there’s:- Opossums vast numbers (imported
for the fur trade, kill forest and steal native birds eggs) Rats 3
varieties; billions of 'em brought by sailors (eat anything at all and
prey on young anything) rabbits (vast numbers, eat out huge grassy
plains out and hills; some farmers have gone broke) ferrets and stoats
brought to kill rabbits - but prey on anything) deer - several kinds
(imported by the hunting fraternity, ate out our forests) domestic
cats gone wild, feral pigs (brought by Captain Cook) Aggressive weed
plants taking over the place. German and other wasps, (killing native
bees, preying on native insects and even baby birds, and taking the
nectar that natives need.) Coi carp - eating out the native fish.
‘Old Man’s Beard’, (clematis alba) convolvulus etc (strangling native
forests.) white butterfly (eating almost any plants) … I could
go on and on and on. Any imported living thing thrives and grows
strong in New Zealand (including my children! - and me!) We have
problems. Including about 1.3 cars for every human. But we don’t have
many factories stuffing up the atmosphere. But we do know about
environmental problems here! We even have a Minister of the
Environment! Cheers, –

John Burgess; @John_Burgess2 of Mapua Nelson NZ

Hello all;

Thanks to everyone who has the same opinion about this fact as I do
!! For the other ones,I think they should spend some time to
investigate a little more about the real facts.

A couple of months ago,some idiot (goldminer !!) caused a serious
problem killing the fish in the Donau and lakes around this place
with cianide solution. Sure no big deal !!

Big fireburns destroyed thousands of acres in
America,Australia,Borneo …etc.Only 16% of our world forrest burned
down, … 16 % of howmuch?

Oil carriers loose or get invalved in an accident,contaminating the
source of live.Remember Koeweit !!!

Ever seen the documentary about the Brazilian aborigins on National
Geografic and the comments from the musical group “Sting”?

With respect to the high level of education of those academic
people,buth I really wonder if they ever turn on their TV ?

As far as I know,the gouverment(whatever nationality it might be)
controlles the real facts and release whatever they want. That’s how
you controlle the people !

Our technology is this far that we can produce cars driven by
splitting water into Oxygen and Hydrogen (american submarine do),or
using electricity,solar cells whatever,anyway environmental friendly
fuell.NO-no,let’s stick with our oil bussines and controlle . the
people !!!The gouverment needs money aswell.

No worry’s,just relaxe and stay passive,the gouverment will take care
about it …

No problem,nature will recover from all this … sure,without us.

D R E A M O N ! ! ! !

Howmuch time more need our sientifics and all those outer terrestrial
programms,do understand that this is the only livable planet whe
have,and that we better use our knowledge to keep it human friendly !
We’ve tried to make an “artificial earth” (can’t recall the programm)
and we DID NOT succeed.

I’m aware of the facts that all the “spinn-off” products from outer
space programms are very good and save peoples live every day,but
what’s next ?? I do know the fact about the over population of our
planet and we better take care about it,if not … nature will !

This is really the last time that I give my comments on environmental
questions.I don’t like to create the idea that I’m against
technology, education,or politics but environmental subjects really
get my full attention and the politic decisions take to much time.

I’ve got two little kids and I really regret if one of them would ask
me "Daddy,is water made in a factory "?

Regards Pedro

Pedro, Please believe me, you are not alone. Here in California we
required clean burning fuel for cars. We got it, we pay more, we
pollute our water table with this very cancer producing product. We
will stop using this product, but not completely until three more
years. Go figure. Teresa

Larry, the forests, like the rest of the planet, and all of the
cosmos do not exist in a static state. If a huge lumber company, or
companies, come in and cut every tree down (clear cutting), then plant
genetically enhanced trees so they all look exactly alike and grow
fast and straight you will have a very un-diversified tree crop. The
lumber taken from a 50 year old building has growth rings so close
together that you need magnification help to see them. Current lumber
has them so wide they look like they were drawn on. The old stuff is
many times stronger and was, as a tree, much more resistant to
infestations. “Old growth” or “Ancient forrest” has been gone only
within your grandfather, or fathers lifetime. We have yet to see what
current forrestry practices will hold for YOUR grandchildren. The
national forrests are not held as a “trust”, but run as a business.
How many board feet per time spent is the formula used for what to do
for the trees. Larry Crum


Again I must take the counter on one of your statements, that about
the burning forests. Why do US forests burn? One reason they burn
because for the last hundred years the US government has been putting
out the smaller fires that would have kept them clean and has
prevented logging of fallen, dead and dying trees.

Much of pre-columbian North America was deliberately burned to
produce grassland/savahnna which would provide forage for the bison,
deer and elk herds so the idea that forest land is “natural” in this
climate depends entirely upon context.

Satellite photos of South America show that the extent of
deforestation is much less than that touted by environmentalists with
much healthier forest than we usually imagine, particularly in areas
where natural fires are left to burn out. The last time I was in
Brazil I saw one of those fires. It burned only the brush, leaving the
trees alone.

As for Australia, well, you don’t suppost the faulty management
process of putting out the small brushfires and allowing forest
overgrowth could be the same as in North America could it?

I’ll skip the rest of your post.


Greetings David, I’m not quite sure how to take this. I’m sure you
mean your advice with the best of intentions. I certainly didn’t mean
to convey the impression with my comment about dropping college
chemistry that I was “chemically illiterate.” I had Chemistry in high
school along with all the years worth of science classes. As I
explained to John Burgess off-list, my father was a chemical engineer
and sent me to college to follow in his footsteps. Had I not dropped
that chemistry class I would have never been able to convince him I
wasn’t cut out to be a chemist. I wanted to be a goldsmith, and
that’s what I learned, and I have a Fine Arts degree to prove it. As
the daughter of a chemist I probably learned more basic chemistry life
lessons than most people. According to family legend, my sisters
first words were “super saturated sugar solution.” I learned, “Don’t
mix bleach with ammonia, don’t eat Drano, and pantyhose are born in a
test tube”. I think it boils down to the art vs. science debate.
While science applications are necessary to produce jewelry, it is
first and foremost an art. I am constantly curious and my curiosity
about pickle seems to have been mis-interpreted. I hope this
clarifies my position a bit.

Barbara Gillis


I need to chime in here.

I suppose it was man-made changes to the earth that caused the
numerous ice ages too? My point here is please don’t jump to
conclusions until all sides of the question have been thoroughly
investigated. Remember the “Spotted Owl” controversy. Any fool who
can and will read knows that Virgin(ha, ha,) Forest supports very
little fauna,hence few owls, but cut over forest and its subsiquent
regrowth supports a surfiet of owls and all of the other attendent
fauna, both predator and prey.

You have no idea how many time these various flora and fauna have
’almost’ come and gone! About 200.000 years ago all but 10,000 homo
sapiens were obliterated from this earth due to some unknown
environmental problem. We came back and prospered. Do we cause
environmental problems? You betcha! Do we need to minimize or
better yet avoid causing those problems, once again, you betcha!
Cooperation not adversarial relationships is a more productive
problem solving venue. BTW the “Great Smokey Mountains” were called
just that by the early explorers because of the constant haze caused
by high humidity, transpiration, ultraviolet radiation, and yes
’Virginia’ natural ozone production!

Old Mom Nature can heal herself pretty well evidenced by the Krakatoa
incident but we should best operate under the old Medical caveat-
‘above all else do no harm’.



Skip Meister
Orchid Jewelry Listserve Member
A day without sunshine is like night!
N.R.A. Endowment

as one who deals with the victims of environmental pollution while
rehabilitating wildlife I have a hard time thinking that we haven’t
already passed the limits of our boundaries many times. During our
time on earth more species have become extinct then in all the other
times frames put together, thanks to our desire to be bigger and
better and richer. Lisa in New York