Health Concern


I received this e-mail today and, to be honest, don’t have an answer.
I was hoping someone might be able to field this one. I don’t think
that the person who sent this to me is on Orchid, so please reply via
e-mail to

"I am looking for some Or if anyone can pass me along to
the appropriate sources. My jewellery business is a small custom and
repair retail jeweller. I am having some discomfort in my lungs and a
metallic taste in my mouth. It has been difficult to pinpoint the
source that causing the problem. But I am quite sure the location is
in the workshop. I thought the problem was solved when I dicarded of
some Nitric Acid that was incorretly left in a bottle with a metal
top. It ate through the lid of the bottle. I thought the fumes were a
result of this. But I dicarded of the material a few weeks ago but the
problem still persists.

If anyone recognizes the symptoms or has any I ideas please pass them

John Shanahan, Associate Editor
AJM magazine
The Authority on Jewelry Manufacturing
Editor, AJM Online
800-444-6572, ext. 3037

Sounds like nitrous fumes from the nitric acid. For some reason these
tend to linger for quite some time. If you breathed in some of the
fumes and are really sensitive to their effect, your lungs and taste
buds could still be affected. Be careful with the discomfort of the
lungs. I used to work in a PGM refinery and was gassed with chlorine
at one stage. 2 weeks after I thought that I had recovered, I started
having breathing difficulties and ended up with a rather uncomfortable
case of pneumonia. Nitrous fumes can have similar effects. If the
discomfort gets any worse, rather see a doctor.

Get better soon
Nils Schwarz
Johannesburg, South Africa

Hello: Your friend must urgent consult a doctor. It seems to be a
typical nitric fume intoxication. Nitric fumes are very dangerous and
it causes cardiopulmonary injury. I sent a message to your friend.

Regards from Daniel Mischelejis
Buenos Aires, Argentina

Dear All:

I am a part time jewelry maker. For approximately 20 years my main
gig has been health and safety at a large company.

My advise is. Run, don’t walk to a doctors. When I hear taste in
the mouth, and breathing problems, that is serious. The doctor will
probably ask 100 questions. The doctor can send you for a blood test
and find out blood abnormalities, and find out if there are certain
metals in the blood. This could very well be from the acid, and if
it is the condition is persistent, she/you need treatment.

When you go to the doctor’s you should have any inventory of
everything that you work with, along with an msds sheet. You should,
rephrase that, the distributor or manufacture is obligated to give
you a material safety data sheet by law. There are also sites on the
web that you can get them from, both metals and chemicals.

I might also suggest that if you find no satisfaction from your
primary care physician, there are doctors that deal specifically with
workplace issues. A primary care may say stop using that, an
industrial doc may help you minimize your exposure when you work.

My last speech from the soap box. I have dealt with many people that
tell me they were sure they would get better, it’s the old I can
handle it myself…IT DOES NOT WORK. Especially when you have had
this several weeks! Trust me, I have seen this one too many times.
To listen to people tell you what they think is wrong, is not
good…go to a doctor.

Your health is the most important thing you have. It may cost you
money, but you need your health.

Carol Manion

I agree that by all means you should check with your doctor. You
don’t want to take any chances. The noxious nitric acid fumes are
dangerous. And, I have a word of warning for those who work with
copper—especially enamelists who are forever filing off burnt edges
and handling sheets of copper. Wear a mask when filing edges,
and wash your hands frequently—especially before eating. And NO
FOOD OR DRINK in the studio. I came down with a nasty case of copper
fume poisoning some years ago and leaned my lesson. I had been
cutting large sheets of copper and filing the edges. Next day, I had
a metalic taste in my mouth and what seemed to be flu symptoms.
Doctor diagnosed it as copper fume sickness Also, I heard of a
fellow enamelist who ran a small sliver of copper into her finger,
and before she knew what was happening she had a serious infection
and it was touch and go for some time as to whether or not her finger
could be saved. Fortunately, it was. When cutting sheets of copper
wear protective gloves. And when working with acids—or any
chemicals make sure you are in a well ventilated area.-- Alma

There are many forms of toxicity that do not show up immediately .If
you work with any type of chemicals whether they are the super toxic
ones that most people put on their lawns to kill grubs and dust on
their home grown vegetables to abate the onslaught of insects , the
clorine that’s used in their pools. or the ones they meet during
their professional lives…even clorine poisoning doesn’t show up
till a strange rash begins to invade months later…insecticides
and fungicides used on our vegies don’t show up till second
generation bone deformaties…and cancers… chemicals alter the
cells and sometimes it takes a while for the full effect…

A note of ignorance. What is this copper fume sickness.

As well as a hobbyist jeweller, I am an electronics hobbyist and
retired electrician and still do some “proper” electrical work. We
still use primus gas torches to heat up large wires when soft
soldering them - yes the copper does get well overheated at times but
that’s the ways its done. This happens especially if its got oxidised
and refuses to @#$% take the solder - it’s always a temptation to use
more heat when there is no easy way of cleaning a multistrand cable
and you don’t want to disturb the “lay of the cable” sometimes anyway.
Copper slivers are also not such an uncommon hazard when cutting
wiring and they are darn hard to get out.

It makes me prick my ears and listen when extra hazards are
mentioned. During trade training nothing was ever mentioned about
copper hazards and it is fairly common to see wires held in the mouth
… as well as cadmium plated screws, zinc plated stuff, solder …

Brian (all this is IMHO, as I’m not an industrial safety expert)
Copper Fume Fever is a more specific form of Metal Fume Fever. The
most commmon form of the fever is due to zinc fumes from welding
galvanized steel, the most quickly deadly to the average weldor is
from the cadmium fumes which cause heart attacks. These two metals are
pretty inert when they are cold, which is how industry has gotten away
with using them for coatings for many years.

However, copper tends to “rust” to a pretty green or blue patina
which consists of deadly poisonous copper sulfates, oxides and

While it is true copper can outgas with high temperature, it is much
more likely the cause for the fumes is one of the low temp metals like
lead, cadmium or zinc. Copper poisoning is much more likely from
breathing the dust of that “pretty” patina. I’ve been making hammered
copper bowls off and on for many years and I am very careful to scrub
off anything that looks like patina or firescale whenever I anneal

So far I’ve had no ill effects from this nor my welding except for
throat cancer (seriously, no kidding). Now I take even more care. Good
luck. Buy a good dust and fume respirator and a big fan and work


    However, copper tends to "rust" to a pretty green or blue
patina which consists of deadly poisonous copper sulfates, oxides
and halides. 

G’day - a bit academic here! Copper colours to a green/blue copper
carbonate as it is corroded by carbon dioxide in rain water, and
there may be some copper hydroxide. Only in a badly polluted
industrial atmosphere is there likely to be halides (copper
oxychloride) and the sulphates will soon be taken over by carbonate
and sulphide. Copper sulphide will also be present in industrially
polluted atmospheres. Cuprous oxide is orange/red, and cupric oxide
is black, and there is often a very small amount of both oxides
present in exposed copper, such as on the green copper roof domes one
sometimes sees. Other colours seen on copper are often produced

John Burgess; @John_Burgess2 of Mapua Nelson NZ