Monday, May 4, 2015

New Study Finds No Link Between Antiques And Cancer

Modern Construction Not Determined Safe?
I have been around the block a few times, to put it simply.  I worked in the Nuclear Physics industry for many years.  You have no idea what types of dangerous materials we were exposed to and how it was considered "normal business" to be around them in the workplace.  One of the reasons I quit my job and walked out the door was personal safety.  The other, and more important, reason I decided to leave the industry is that I did not want to support further research into atomic energy if there was no honest desire to mitigate the serious problem of radioactive waste.  I am sorry to say that I do not see any real improvements to the problem over the past 40 years.

Industry is generally driven by profits.  Rarely are the safety concerns of the consumers considered in the formula unless there are restrictions imposed by governments.  For example, when I learned to drive, gasoline was filled with lead, dashboards had sharp knobs everywhere, bumpers were "decorative," and seat belts were for Nascar drivers only.  Also, smoking was encouraged by medical doctors as "safe" and "healthy" forms of recreation.

Without effective government regulation this would still be the case today, I believe.

Modern Industrial Woodworker vrs, Old Lady

So this morning I read on the front page of the New York Times about "serious" efforts by lobbyists to stop regulations limiting the use of formaldehyde in household products.  Since I am a woodworker and know a few things about chemistry, I support the ban on urea formaldehyde glues as well as other finishes and materials which contain hazardous chemicals.

These chemicals are not stable.  They decay over time and "out gas" into the surrounding environment which expose consumers to hazardous fumes.  It is amazing to me how many things modern consumers live with which are not healthy.  Fabrics, carpet, glues, finishes, paint, and plastics all contribute to a cloud of chemicals unseen or undetected by the person living in their home.

The article mentions the argument by the industrial defenders of formaldehyde use that banning it would force "millions" of workers out of a job.  How about the argument that directing these "millions" of workers to find safe alternatives would not only allow them to keep their jobs but improve the product?

I have done 45 years of research into the relationship between living with pre industrial furniture and cancer.  So far my intensive research has found no link at all between cancer and sitting in a chair upholstered with cotton, silk or wool fabric, stuffed with cotton and horsehair, and finished with shellac.  I also have found no relationship between putting my hands in animal protein glues or shellac finishes and cancer.

I will continue my research.  I expect that I will be able to study this problem for several decades.  In the meantime, my contribution to the solution remains available: Old Brown Glue.


Paul Bouchard said...

I can't say that I've closely followed the research but studies have been done that show that while fire fighters have the average incidence of cancer deaths, the proportion of those cancers that are brain tumours is higher. It's hard to prove conclusively because the latency is thought to be pretty long and it may be centred on a cohort of guys hit hardest, who worked in the period after the introduction of synthetic foams, carpets, etc but before the adoption of personal air supplies.

Renewable Community Power said...

Does anyone make (or has anyone tried to make) plywood or particle/mdf type boards with hide glue? (or something similar?)

W. Patrick Edwards said...

I appreciate your comment. It is a serious problem certainly when these diverse materials combust. Also, as you point out, there is a time lag between exposure and illness, so it is hard to prove a direct connection.

Fortunately, most fire fighters have adopted contained breathing systems and that is a step towards better protection when fighting fires.

Chris said...

Just watch out for the lead in that pre-industrial white paint, and BLO!

All kidding aside, good post.

W. Patrick Edwards said...

Part of this post was meant to be serious and part of it was supposed to be like the Onion News.

There were lots of ways to get exposed to toxic materials in the early days. After all, they used mercury to apply gold to mounts, and don't even get me started on some of the food they ate.

I suppose it was more likely that lead poisoning was the result of guns than paint, but at least lead based paint would stay on your house for 50 years before you had to repaint!

Pasadena Woodworks said...

Indeed as Patrick says, industry is driven by profit...hence the use of cheap materials like formaldehyde based glues. As traditional cabinet makers, ebenistes, ect...we are in the unfortunate position of people comparing the pricing of our work against giant companies like Ikea. I find many comparisons to the way we work with other industries like organic farmers or producers of hand made clothing. While our respective costs are higher than those working in mass production, the question from consumers should not be "why is the work of someone like Patrick Edwards so expensive", the question should be, "why is the work of Ikea so cheap? Its not "why is this organic beefsteak tomato so expensive", its "why is this heavily processed Kraft macaroni so cheap?" Its not "why is this hand made organic, pesticide free cotton shirt so expensive," its "why is this sweatshop made shirt so cheap?"

And to the person who asked about plywood made using hide glue, I have seen a seven ply mahogany wall panel from a house built in 1908 and the glue was hide glue. There has been no delamination in the past century...a testament to the durability of hide glue. And of course if it did ever delaminate, it could be fixed, unlike with modern glues of today.

W. Patrick Edwards said...

Well Said! Thank you for your excellent analysis of the situation. This is a perspective that would be productive IF the journalists these days would just be objective about the effects of industry on society.

Excellent response.

Martin said...

I know I'm way late to the party here, and mostly agree with all these sentiments. I do want to point out one of the truly vexing things where government is part of the problem. I started working with shellac recently, and just bought a jug of Denatured Alcohol and thought "this is safe, it's just alcohol." Of course, as everybody here likely already knows, most denatured sold these days is nearly half methyl alcohol. This has been caused by two concurrent problems of regulatory making: first, the desire to make ethanol a fuel for our cars regardless of environmental efficacy and the desire to tax ethanol safe for consumption (indeed, during prohibition, the government was, in essence, poisoning its own citizens).

I guess this is half rant, and half a warning to read the MSDS of any denatured alcohol that you use. The "green" home center stuff is ok, as is Bekol. If you're lucky enough to live in a place that allows the sale of 190 proof everclear (again, the government banning the sale of the safest solvent), that's probably the best option, or going to a scientific supply house and buy the pure 200 proof stuff.

W. Patrick Edwards said...

I wonder if Martin is reading our minds? This comment arrived this morning and all day yesterday Patrice and I spent searching for a good alcohol for our polishing. We are doing the final polishing on the Treasure Boxes now and have been using normal denatured alcohol from Home Depot. We are concerned with the percentage of methanol in the solvent and wondered if 190 proof Everclear would be better, Checking the local liquor store we found out that only the 150 proof was legal in California. We found the 190 proof in Yuma, some 4 hours away, but checking with the Sacramento department of the ABC we were told that bringing "any alcoholic" beverage across state lines was illegal. Ironically, they said that it was legal to bring it in from Mexico, and that the limit for personal use was 60 liters! We would have to declare it at the border and pay 114% tariff but Mexico is only 20 minutes away. I haven't been to Mexico in 40 years so I was reluctant to consider this.

Then, when we checked the MSDS online we discovered the "green" denatured alcohol was 90% alcohol compared to the 45% in the normal Klean Strip can we had been using. WTF?

You are correct that the highly paid "representatives of the people" make their decisions and create legislation which protects the economic interests of the few who can afford to buy them dinner. We seem to end up on the short end of the stick.

I return the rant. Thanks, Martin.

Unknown said...

I think that every woodworker should take the fine dust issue seriously and project to have a vacuum, this is not only a plus for health but also for productivity especially if you get a festool dust extractor that connects directly to your tools, as aspires all the dust live while you are drilling or doing other activity.

W. Patrick Edwards said...

I do not usually post comments with commercial links, but it is true that some wood dust can be unhealthy. I do not have any power tools so I do not generate dust, but Festool makes good tools and their dust extractor works well.

The wonderful thing about hand tool woodworking is that you produce shavings, not dust.

The only dust I generate is when I hand sand, and that is not often.