Sometimes it's the things you can't see that can kill you!
You know, one of the most satisfying things in life is to create a custom work of art by cutting and welding metal together. Whether it's a car or truck or bike or whatever... to have a machine that allows you to join metal at a molecular level is truly an amazing thing that has to be experienced to be fully understood.
Unfortunately, a tool that has this kind of power also has the power to inflict some serious damage, and most everybody knows how important proper safety gear is when you are welding. However, there are some hidden dangers that go way beyond the heat, and fire, and bright light that are usually associated with welding. I am talking about hidden dangers that can form in the air and do a lot more damage then give you a welder tan, or drop hot cherries down your shirt. I am talking about poison gas, and not the kind you get from Taco Bell.
A lot of people use brake cleaners and solvents to clean up old, crusty parts prior to welding them together. No problem, if you get everything nice and clean and dry. If you don't, there can be some serious problems lurking like a rattlesnake in the form of an overlooked drop of cleaner. How you ask? Well some brake cleaners, (Brake-Kleen for example) have a main ingredient called tetrachloroethylene. If you'll look you can see it listed right on the label. Now at this point you may be thinking..."So what?... well if you will read a little further down the label of the can, you will see that when this chemical is exposed to excessive heat and Argon gas, which is used in MIG and TIG welding, it produces a gas called Phosgene…and this is where things get really nasty.
Phosgene gas can be fatal with a dose as small as four parts per million which means if there is a drop of this cleaner hidden in a crack, and you hit it with your torch, the resulting tiny puff of smoke can kill you! But even if you don’t die, you may wish you were dead because there is no antidote for Phosgene poisoning, and some of the long term effects are chronic bronchitis and emphysema. There is also the risk of permanent kidney, liver, and pancreas damage, and any number of other really bad things...all from a gas that nobody has ever heard of, and most of us can't even pronounce!
So what can you do? Simple... Be aware of what you are doing. Read the warning labels on the cans of the things you are using, and understand how they may react to other tools and equipment you may be using. And above all, DON'T GET IN A HURRY, because that is where most of us make some really big mistakes. Remember, there is no project in this world that is worth the life or health of yourself or those around you, and all it takes is just a little pre-planning and preparation to make sure you will be welding safely for years to come.
So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and fire up those welders and build something cool!