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Unvented basement workspace and health

The chemical fumes include:

Hydrochloric acid
Sulfuric acid
nail polish (they use it as an acid resist)
acetone (to scrub off the nail polish after copper plating)
copper sulfate (don’t know if this releases fumes when exposed to the
acids during plating)

I’m breathing this stuff every time I go to work for these folks.
There is no venting. All fo this stuff is in their basement. There
are acid-filled tubs used for the copper plating process in rows,
with lids that just lie loosely on top. Furthermore, they apparently
do not have a neutralizing step between the acid bath and polishing -
they scrub off the nail polish in acetone, rinse, and give to me to
polish. Some of these things are hollow and still smell strongly of
acid when I get them, I assume its mostly acid that has not rinsed
out of the interior.

I am experiencing peeling skin, hair breakage, unexplained bruising,
and a cough within 24 hours of working in this environment. While
polishing, I wear a surgical mask, goggles, and a hat to keep the
crap out of my hair (which doesn’t work as well as one might hope).
I wear rubber gloves while lacquering. There is no other safety gear
used during any other time.

I suspect acid residue mixed with buff fluff (which layers my
exposed arms and gets under my shirt sleeves) is the cause of the
peeling skin, which peels in patches. Bruising and peeling skin
occur on my upper arms. I wear gloves during the polishing because
the copper plated statues get very hot while polishing, so there is
no noticeable effect to the skin on my hands, only my arms (whether
exposed or where it gets up under the sleeves).

The other day the rubber gloves I was wearing for lacquering blew
out and I got this lacquer all over my hand. It burned. I had to
scrub it off with the toothbrush I’m supposed to use for cleaning the
polishing compound off these things. It did not leave any visible
marks, but it burned until I got it all scrubbed off. Could acid
residue from the interior of the hollow pieces get into the lacquer
when you dip the pieces? I’ve never had lacquer burn when it got on
my skin before. Also managed to splash some of this stuff into my
mouth by accident and that wasn’t fun either (dropped a large piece
into the lacquer which splashed onto my face).

So am I being a wimp, or am I right to be concerned about the
chemical stew I’m swimming in? It doesn’t seem to be affecting the
macaw upstairs, and birds are usually VERY sensitive to fumes.


       The chemical fumes include: Hydrochloric acid Sulfuric acid
nail polish (they use it as an acid resist) acetone (to scrub off
the nail polish after copper plating) lacquer copper sulfate (don't
know if this releases fumes when exposed to the acids during
   So am I being a wimp, or am I right to be concerned about the
chemical stew I'm swimming in?  It doesn't seem to be affecting
the macaw upstairs, and birds are usually VERY sensitive to fumes. 

You are not being a wimp. An OSHA inspection would close the place
down. You are probably doing long term damage to yourself by working
in this environment. For complete go to: You will find resources to help comply
with OSHA regulations. You should show this to your

Joel Schwalb

This place sounds like it is a violation of a large number of health
and safety laws . I would certainly not be working there.

Jim Binnion
James Binnion Metal Arts
Phone (360) 756-6550
Toll Free (877) 408 7287
Fax (360) 756-2160

Member of the Better Business Bureau

Sojourner, surely there is somewhere else you could work to make
your living. This place sounds absolutely horrible and is definitely
in violation of OSHA regulations. At the very least, insist that they
provide you adequate clothing protection, including a REAL
respirator. Your long-term health is more important than making a few
dollars now.


Betty, I have been out of work since my entire department was laid
off two years ago (outsourced). The best I have been able to come up
with is a part-time job that over the past year has amounted to a
total of 800 hours. Prior to June of 2004 I had no job whatsoever,
and I’ve made less than $5k in the year since then.

In short, there is not somewhere else I can work to make my living.
I wish there were!

Furthermore, since I recently broke down and applied for foodstamps,
I CANNOT quit this job (or any other I am currently working) without
having my application for food stamps denied (for having
"voluntarily reduced" my work hours.)

However, I do have an appointment at the nearby nearly-free-clinic
to see if I can get “permission” to quit this job. I don’t know if
I’ll get it - I have been avoiding going to this job (its a second
part-time job I started working at about the beginning of June) for
the past week, so my most obvious symptoms have improved. I guess
I’ll forego the food stamps if I can’t get the doctor’s excuse, but
I’ve got to tell you, going hungry is hard. I’m lucky enough to
have friends who will feed me, and for the past couple of months I’ve
actually had to rely on this sort of help on more occassions than I
care to think about.

People really do work under these kinds of conditions because the
alternative is quite literally starvation.

And don’t think that OSHA is any help at all. There’s a factory
here that produces weapons-related products for the military. I know
a woman who quit there after she started experiencing multiple
health-related problems, including bleeding from the ears. They
were working in an area where antifreeze and other chemicals were
being sprayed into the air in a fine mist. There was no protective
gear provided to the employees. No discussion of or education about
safety procedures. In fact, she had to sneak the product labels out
to a local university to even find out what they were working with.
Highly toxic stuff, it turns out. She did call OSHA. They sent an
inspector. The inspector had coffee with management and left
without ever setting foot on the factory floor. You do know that
surprise inspections have to be scheduled with the company being
inspected now, right? And that OSHA has no way to force their way in
to inspect anything if the company doesn’t want them to?

She quit 2 years ago and is still unemployed. Her boyfriend still
works there and now requires an inhaler to breathe. Nobody cares,
Betty. Or they call you a liar when you report this type of thing
(I had someone from this list e-mail me privately and suggest I was
lying about my situation). Or they’re so afraid they’ll be
unemployed too, they just keep quiet and pray they won’t be the next
to succumb - to ill health, unemployment, or death.

It’s not a question of “making a few dollars” so much as it is a
question quite literally of survival. Worries about future health
pale in comparison to the option that would destroy your ability to
feed your kids and keep a roof over their heads today.


PS - remember that the unemployment rate is a lie. As soon as I
dropped off the unemployment rolls - after 6 months - I was no
longer counted as unemployed. Yet I was completely unemployed for
another 6 months, then I was working a big 13 hours a week. There
are far more of us who have been unemployed for a year or more than
are currently on the unemployment rolls.

Zen, Your friend should call OSHA again, ask to speak to a manager,
and explain what happened. My experience with OSHA was more
positive. One bad inspector doesn’t mean the whole org. is bad. I
do know that it sometimes takes multiple visits, however, to get
something done. Also, I’d contact local health officials as well.
And if none of that works, you could try an anonymous tip to a
reporter. Dawn in Texas

Sojourner I do understand your situation some what. My other had a
bad time with her employer and ended up out of there. The problem
with OSHA and the military industrial complex is that OSHA really
doesn’t have a lot of say in those matter. The people who produced
weapons grade uranium in Ohio were not cover by anything, except for
what the government wanted to give them The companies who operated
those plant were exempt from liability under a set of laws that date
back to the forties. If you need some help with ventilation, just
ask. I could probably find afew things around my study that would
work for you.


where do you live???, how old are you???, ever consider moving if
this your problem???, did you know that even if you are off
unemployment, even for a year, or more, if you go back to the
EMPLOYMENT office and want to enroll in schooling, any that they
offer, CDL license, dental, cnc, college, if you already have some
credits, etc., you will collect again , but only while you are in
school/training, so you learn too, i, a few years ago, went to
montclair state college, for 2 years, after mine ended, that’s how
i found out, but this is jersey, probably depends on the state
program, ever consider selling stuff that you make, you know like
beaded necklaces!!!, no really, anything that you are good at
doing, got any great talents???, experience???, if you’re good
at something, there is a way, freelance etc., traveling out of
state to meet who you need to meet IS an option, so what’s the
story sojourner???,only asking these questions cause i really
haven’t read many of your posts, so i really don’t know you, alot
of these people seem to like you though, oh yea, don’t work in
the place your in unless they are going to give you clean air to
breath, an exhausted, vented shop at the least, respirator,
proper face/eyewear, proper hand and armwear so nothing touches your
skin if you don’t want it to, and at the very least, buy all the
safety supplies yourself and bring them, and get the place
exhausted, with a freakin dust collector too, dp

Thanks, everybody, I am going to quit the job. I was asking mostly
to confirm my feeling that the conditions are bad and I’m not just
wimping out or imagining things. I do have my “other” part time job
so its not going to be any worse financially than it has been over
the past year.

These folks that I’m working for are working out of their basement
and I just don’t feel like going after them by siccing OSHA on them.
Up to now they’ve done all the work themselves (well, one of them
does most of the work and now she’s sick, big surprise) so its not a
pattern of employee abuse so much as it is self abuse. I did try to
talk to them about venting, but the one who makes all the decisions
just blew me off. Horse + water NOT = drink in this case.

Thanks again for all the advice.

Zen, thanks for explaining your situation. Wow! Of course I had no
idea why you would allow yourself to be subjected to such lousy
working conditions, so I’m glad you explained. Thank goodness you do
have good friends who can help out when the situation gets desperate.

The longer I live in Texas, the better I like it. We have a program
called “Texas Workforce Commission” where they work as both an
unemployment commission and a source for retraining education. I
attended only 2 days of a 5-day seminar and was able to interview for
a really good job and land it. I know that without having taken those
two days, I would not have landed that job.

Other than food stamps, is there any other program available to you
that might help you in getting a decent job? Oh, are there any
upscale retirement facilities in your area? Email me offlist and I’ll
tell you what I did that made me a good bit of cash.

Bjleeper @ (remove spaces)

Hi. I’m not in a position to move. I own my land (although I live in
a camper). That’s a heck of a lot better than being homeless, LOL!
The land’s not worth much, which is why I can afford to live on it.
Selling it wouldn’t give me enough to start over anywhere else
except another location just like this one. I don’t have a lot, but
what I have, I own, and taxes are low enough that I don’t have to
worry about keeping it.

I do sell “stuff that I make”, but its going to take time to break
even, let alone make a profit. At least a couple of years.

When they laid off my entire department, I did go to whatever social
service office it is that handles retraining and got thrown out on
my butt for my trouble - virtually called a leech - because I have a
BS degree, just not one that’s going to get me a job anywhere around
here. I was told that there were people who REALLY needed help and
I shouldn’t be taking resources away from them. One of the other
women went through training to become a surgical assistant and now
works at Aldi’s (a grocery store). The rest chose to collect
unemployment. Some were near retirement age anyway, some were
married, I think I MAY be the only single woman in the bunch.

I don’t think “retraining” would have been wasted on me. But I
couldn’t get it. Not eligible.

The issue really isn’t how to make money - I do have another part
time job (that’s the one that paid me $5k last year). But its hard
for me to imagine QUITTING a job when I do need the extra money. I
also considered the possibility that I was being wimpy - hence I
asked (and apparently I am NOT being wimpy).

Doc’s appointment tomorrow. If I get the “excuse”, then maybe I’ll
still be eligible for food stamps (which I haven’t been approved for
yet). If not, well, I’ve been living without them for 2 years, I
can go awhile longer.

Besides, I still have a lot of weight to lose. LOL!


Zen and Group

My husband installed a simple bathroom fan horizontally into the
bench between my soldering area and pickle pot. He then vented this
out the wall behind my bench as I too am in the basement of a
bi-level house. This fan takes the fumes right off the bench before
they come past my face and whisk them outside. This fan cost about
$40CAD can exchange at the rate of 80 cubic feet per minute. You can
get larger fans that are the same dimensions.

He also set up my gases outside and piped them in so if the tanks
leak they are quickly dissipated outside. I only had trouble with one
faulty Acetylene tank which was replaced.

Karen Bahr
Karen’s Artworx

Zen, you can make it work if you are tenacious enough and clearly
you are willing to accept conditions many people wouldn’t. I am
familiar with this myself. We lived on less than $12,000 annual
income for 3 consecutive years with 1 daughter in college for all 3
and another for only one. Amazing what you can do without when the
need exists.

The agency help available to people varies alot depending upon where
you are located. In north-west Washington state there are several
possible aids. Work Source is federally funded and offers free help
to all comers. There are retraining programs available if you
qualify. That is tremendously variable region to region. My wife was
laid off when her airline call center was relocated into Seattle
area, about 90 miles away. Had we lived 40 miles south, she would
not have qualified for retraining. Luckily she did. There are other
formal and less-formal organizations which can be of some aid.
Salvation Army here is really helpful. One of the best I know, and
less well known, is a gleaning group. I think they ask for $24 per
year to be a member and expect 2 hours a week, average help from you.
In exchange you get “shares” of the group’s efforts. They have a huge
list of markets, bakerys, produce retailers & wholesalers, farmers
large and small, who contribute their surplus and unattractive
products. I know 4 families who rarely if ever buy food as their
needs are met entirely by this group. I realize this is of no help to
you unless you live in Skagit or Whatcom counties here. But maybe
there is a sister organization near you.

Not sure I can help but feel free to email me off list if you would
like more than general, “good job, stick in there!” kind of support.

The Dragon’s Lair

I work in the basement as well and am interested in what you all
think about using a mask when I solder and open the pikle lid ?


I saw the doctor last Thursday and he understood what was going on
perfectly. He used to work in a copper plating facility and knew
all about it (and here I thought I was going to have to struggle
through a complicated explanation, LOL!)

I do have bronchial involvement and inflammation of the lungs (not
to mention weird skin stuff going on) and he put me on an inhaler and
an antibiotic for the next little bit.

When I posted the original question, I was mostly looking for
permission to quit, I guess. I’ve always felt you should have a
good reason to quit a job, such as, say ANOTHER JOB! Or a winning
lottery ticket.

So thanks for the support and advice. I got “permission” to quit
from EVERYBODY, including the doc, LOL!