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Neurological hazards


I have Multiple Sclerosis, and am looking for
first-hand knowledge about what I should do and be
careful about regarding metal-working activities that could have
an impact on my already-damaged and vulnerable central nervous
system. I am a self-taught amateur, doing small-scale work in
ss, copper, brass; I solder with a small propane tank (but would
like to buy a larger torch rig–advice on this from a
neurological perspective wld be good); I have a polishing
motor,flex-shaft and hydraulic press (and use whatever compounds
and toxin-making things would be expectable. (I do not cast,
nor do i work in gold.) I would like to work with patinas and
also etching. I live in a loft space where i have my
metal-working equipment pretty much out in the open, with a fan
and windows nearby, but no exhaust system.

Any informed advice? My doctors are naive about art matrials
and processes, so are helpless on this score; and otherwise i
have only found rather general/universal info. on the toxics of
metals activities.

Tracy Munn
Counseling Services


Hi, Tracy!

I know a little about MS by virtue of the fact that my mother
was first diagnosed over 40 years ago. She is now bedridden, but
entirely lucid, in fact, she is an internationally published
author of haiku. Anyway, you are probably aware that conventional
medicine looks on MS as immune disorder. Alternative medicine,
depending on which school, advocates a variety of treatments,
including abstinence from wheat consumption and a process ( I
believe courtesy of Edgar Cayce’s group) which involved using
current and a gold solution to try and import gold through the
skin into the blood. If gold is therapeutic, then metalsmithing
could be the pursuit the dr ordered.From what I have observed,
the most therapeutic rx is to get plenty of rest, be with people
who nourish rather than deplete you, and to devote yourself to
those things which make your heart sing (the good, the true, the
beautiful, you know…) As far as toxicity issues, it depends on
what you want to do, as there are an incredible variety of
chemicals and processes available to the jeweler and metalsmith.
At the most basic, which is forming, filing, forging,
fabricating, soldering, the major chemical processes are fluxing
(coating metal with a chemical which deters oxidization),
pickling (immersing the metal in a solution which disolves metal
oxides which the flux did not prevent), etching, which involves
using corrosives to eat away metal, and patination, which
involves any number of chemicals, and, in some cases electrical
current, to acheive a colored surface on metal.

Fluxing can be acheived with borax, as in “20 Mule Team” or
other variety, mixed with alcohol. The piece is dipped and then
ignited, and the borax prevents further oxidization. Pickling can
be acheived with muriatic acid, sold for treatment of swimming
pools. Lee Epperson also did an article in the Lapidary Journal
in which he described removing oxides by dropping the hot,
finished piece in dry leaves in a closed environment-- the
burning leaves consume the oxygen which produce the oxide. A
caster, he now uses his wax shavings to accomplish the same
process. I have worked with patination, and can tell you that
liver of sulphur, which is not particularly toxic,turns silver
and copper black, and that copper can be turned any variety of
hues by using kitchen subsances like salt, vinegar and ammonia.

If there is an alternative therapy which you believe valid,
then, by all means, discuss this with a qualified therapist. If
not, my admittedly limited, anecdotal observation is this: If
there is something good and beautiful that you want to
communicate with metal, go for it, if you need any adaptive tools
please e-mail and wiser ones than I can advise you. You can
create pieces of incredible beauty without ever having to use
exotic or toxic chemicals.

Hope this helps!



Lee, your response was so kind and to the point. In the 6 years
I have lived with MS, it has been all over the map, and
terrifying/incpacitating enough at times that I have come to
some good wisdom about living life (as well as living life with
the disease). Doing what makes my heart sing is the key, and my
artwork is that for me. Luckily, I have a profession and a
reasonable job that pay the rent; not so luckily, the short
hours I do in my job each day, pretty much wipe me out. While i
do not have to make money at my metalsmithing, neither do i have
as much wherewithal to enjoy that freedom/luxury as I would if i
were healthy. But then, everyone feels something like that.

I appreciate the concrete info on solutions, etc. Do you know
of a way I could look into the relative neurological toxicity of
th different agents? So far my strategy has been to just do
what I can to avoid or minimize exposure, but I tend to be
careless when I don’t know what REALLY is the danger.

Good will to your mother! She sounds like a woman to be
admired. Tracy

Tracy Munn
Counseling Services


Hi, Tracy!

Please forgive the delay in my response-- I wanted to check my
facts before responding. I could not find any data on Medline
indicating that MS makes people respond differently to substances
than does the general population. It has been suggested that, as
MS is an autoimmune disorder, and as zinc boosts the immune
system, it would be prudent for MS patients to avoid zinc.
Solders contain some zinc, but the amount which you would be
exposed to in handling the solder and breathing the vapors when
soldering is probably negligible compared to normal dietary

With regard to the toxicity of the compounds normally
encountered in jewelery making, liver of sulphur, when boiled,
releases fumes which combine with moisture to form hydrogen
sulphide, a noxious gas. There is no particular reason to boil
liver of sulphur, so the solution here is to refrain from boiling
this substance.

If you do any lapidary work, the dust produced is not
particularly healthy to inhale–best to wear a partical filter
mask or respirator when doing this, particularly if working with
copper minerals.

Acids are irritating to the lungs, and you should ensure
adequate ventilation when using them.

If you plan on working with other chemicals and want to know
their toxicity, you can pull up their Material Safety Data Sheet
(MSDS) at




Hope this helps.



Lee, thankyou so much! This is very helpful and i especially
appreciate your extra legwork. The cite address for MSDS will
be my best resource to-date. Tracy

Tracy Munn
Counseling Services


Hi Tracy,

here are some sites I have uncovered while searching for safety

best wishes Charles

These sites address safety issues. Various search engines were
used, my favorite is

Hotbot allows you to use as many keywords you like in a string.
These keywords, among others were used:

hazard safety metals substitute substitution occupational health
hygiene industrial safer ventilation jewelry, loss control, risk
management, procedure exposure NIOSH OSHA waste
A list of MSDS sites with the number of MSDS sheets compiled in each site.
A really excellent safety site with a ton of good links.
Michael McCann’s Arts Safety and Hazards site (Center for Safety in the Arts).
The Jewelry/Metals safety and hazards page from McCann’s site.
McCann’s links pages for health and safety.
A very good article on lead hazards in the arts by Angela Babin.

MSDS sheets on line for a number of solvents and other products. Mostly
automotive in nature. Quite interesting.
Despite the name this is an incredible set of US government resources for
business, health, safety, free publications and tons more.
Mettam Company, Safety Supplies and good safety links
Zee’s Safety resource on OSHA standards. Go to their home site
for a lot of good links and They also have a reasonable online
MFasco Safety company pages, catalog and resources
OSHA’s site. Lots of and tons of connections for health,
safety, regulations and more.
American Industrial Hygiene Association
National Institute for safety and Health (NIOSH) page, links and more
The NIOSH links list index. Lots here, actually rather incredibly dense.
Pro-Am Safety Company links list. Another good one.
Russells very interesting safety documents, analysis models etc.
British Society of Occupational Health and Safety links; hundreds of them.
A list of safety related internet resource links.
Eye Safety and eye protection links.

Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS)
The index page for health and safety links at CCOHS
The carcinogenic potency project: over 1298 chemicals rated by carcinogeni
Biochemical substitutions benefit workser safety, descriptions and tables
that compare traditionsl and biochemical solvents. Check the rest of the
factsheets here out as well.

The EPA’s on line order spot for fact sheets and
Everything about ammonia as a chemical in the workplace.
Everything about silver as a chemical in the workplace.
Everything about cupric sulfate as a chemical in the workplace.
Everything about nickel as a chemical in the workplace.
Everything about zinc as a chemical in the workplace.
Everything about zinc oxide (ie from molten brass) as a chemical in the
Everything about hydrogen chloride (HCl) as a chemical in the workplace.
Everything about aluminum as a chemical in the workplace.
Everything about aluminum as a chemical in the workplace. This should
convince you to get rid of any older, cadmium containing solders.
Everything about sulfuric acid as a chemical in the workplace.
Everything about nitric acid as a chemical in the workplace.
OSHA directive on respirators
OSHA rules for eyewear
OSHA index of regulations
The hazardous solvent substitution data bank, an on line system to find
substitutes for solvents.
A good page on chemical safety
CIS page of international O and S links and
NIOSH international safety card for borax
The NIOSH international safety cards index, in an incredible number of
languages, including Swahili.
Oregons on-line OSHA course introduction page
An extensive hazardous waste bibliography
One part of a large bibliography on ergonomics

Grant, K., D. Habes, T. Hales, W. Daniels. 1993. Case studies: Biochemical
hazards in a jewelry manufacturing
facility. Applied Occupational and Environmental Hygiene 8(2):90-96.

Brain Press
Box 1624, Ste M, Calgary, Alberta, T2P 2L7, Canada
Tel: 403-263-3955 Fax: 403-283-9053 Email: @Charles_Lewton-Brain

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