Thursday, October 17, 2013
After numerous unsatisfactory attempts to make adjustments to the settings of both ‘welders’ in the garage, the machine and myself, I needed a new piece of scrap to continue my slightly frustrating efforts at producing a consistently ‘good’ weld. I grabbed a drop off tube, cleaned the oily residue off of it, and ran the first weld bead. After finishing the weld, the glass on my auto-darkening helmet allowed me to once again see things other than sparks and molten metal. The first thing to catch my eye is the wisp of smoke twisting up from my steel work piece. Instantaneously my mind transports me just a minute or two back in time, as I was preparing the piece of tube. Instead of cleaning it off with acetone, as I normally would, I casually grabbed the can of brake cleaner that happened to be within arm’s reach. I sprayed the metal down and gave it a quick wipe with a paper towel, before setting it up on the table to begin my welding…Returning to the present, panic immediately sets in. Was the brake cleaner fully dried? Is that the normal smell from welding?? What’s that tingle in my lung?!?...
Now some people are acutely aware of the huge safety violation I just made, but others might be quite surprised to learn the potential severity of such seemingly insignificant actions. Either way, we all need the occasional reminder of how even brief instants of carelessness are capable of changing our lives forever. Even though the previous sequence of events happened over the course of only a second or two, before thinking clearly again and realizing I was completely safe, it is still worth bringing up for anybody that that actually reads through this build.
The problem arises when chlorinated hydrocarbons are exposed to oxygen and UV radiation or high temperatures. Even a few residual drops of chlorinated brake cleaner not fully dried off of a part can react to form Phosgene gas. While not a name heard much today, it is the chemical weapon from the trenches of WWI believed to be responsible for more deaths than any other…Not exactly something you want to be breathing in ANY quantity.
I thought I only kept non-chlorinated brake cleaner on hand, but it had been so long since using it last that I wasn’t completely certain. Thankfully I was able to quickly verify it and calm myself, since it is only the chlorinated type that has this extremely dangerous reaction. In some places, like California, I don’t think you can even get chlorinated brake cleaner anymore. Regardless, welding is a pretty intense process capable of numerous health and safety concerns. So you need to be conscious of everything you do around the welding too. Thus I can’t recommend strongly enough that it is best to ALWAYS make sure you’re using a solvent that does not have a variant capable of accidentally releasing a Schedule 3 chemical weapon in your garage. That way you’ll never even have a reason to question yourself.