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  #1  
Old 10-30-2012, 05:32 PM
Napier Napier is online now
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How dangerous is beryllium, really?

I like elemental metals, for no particular reason, and see where I can buy beryllium cylinders. I've always been afraid of Be, but came across this note:
"Nasty stuff? Rather like Al, which it chemically resembles, Be is "nasty" if ingested as compounds (which require chelation therapy to get rid of) or inhaled as finely divided dust (berylliosis). But otherwise, it is a useful very light and largely atmospheric corrosion resistant construction metal, for use where Al is too soft and heavy, and Mg too reactive and also too soft; - but, Be being a much rarer element and found in extractable amounts only in rare minerals like beryl in Brazil, it is very expensive. That is why it was used as the re-entry heat-shield on the Apollo spacecraft."
So, assuming one leaves it in the solid elemental state, how dangerous is beryllium?

Note - there are plenty of references that say it is dangerous, but then there are references that say one should call one's doctor if one's skin has been exposed to isopropyl alcohol, and that one should avoid prolonged contact with skin cream, and that one should wear protective garments such as gloves and goggles to handle water. It seems that some kind of alarmism has made chemical safety references partly useless.
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  #2  
Old 10-30-2012, 05:42 PM
Michael63129 Michael63129 is offline
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As I understand it, it is only a problem when it is ground up into dust; at least, I have seen warnings for electronic components which contain beryllium oxide which state not to grind the ceramic parts because hazardous dust will result (example). The Wikipedia article on beryllium poisoning suggests that inhalation of dust is the greatest hazard (the metal itself is very poorly absorbed if ingested or through dermal contact).
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  #3  
Old 10-30-2012, 05:49 PM
jnglmassiv jnglmassiv is offline
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Originally Posted by Michael63129 View Post
As I understand it, it is only a problem when it is ground up into dust; at least, I have seen warnings for electronic components which contain beryllium oxide which state not to grind the ceramic parts because hazardous dust will result (example). The Wikipedia article on beryllium poisoning suggests that inhalation of dust is the greatest hazard (the metal itself is very poorly absorbed if ingested or through dermal contact).
I have the same understanding. When I bought my 3.5W argon laser years ago, the seller warned that if it ever dropped and the laser tube cracked or shattered, it should be treated with care as the tiny particles of beryllium are hazardous. But if properly disassembled, it is ok to handle the tube as there wouldn't be particles to inhale .
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  #4  
Old 10-30-2012, 05:52 PM
FE3O4ENAIL FE3O4ENAIL is offline
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I had a vender refuse to sell me some BeCu because he found out the project required welding. I was not going to do the welding, it would be done by someone set up for the job. Nope, still no sale.
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  #5  
Old 10-30-2012, 05:53 PM
johnpost johnpost is online now
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ingestable forms like dust are a hazard.

items are plated with it for protection.
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  #6  
Old 10-30-2012, 07:18 PM
Xema Xema is offline
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Originally Posted by Napier View Post
"... it is very expensive. That is why it was used as the re-entry heat-shield on the Apollo spacecraft."
I imagine it would have to possess some other qualities to be selected for this role.
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  #7  
Old 10-30-2012, 08:44 PM
Dr. Strangelove Dr. Strangelove is offline
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Material safety data sheets are usually short on alarmism. The one for beryllium metal seems to confirm what you've found; that the main safety risk is inhalation of airborne beryllium particulate. For basic skin contact, they've listed "Skin abrasion may cause irrritation".
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  #8  
Old 10-30-2012, 08:47 PM
Senegoid Senegoid is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Napier View Post
I like elemental metals, for no particular reason, and see where I can buy beryllium cylinders. I've always been afraid of Be, but came across this note: [ . . . ]
I've never tried elemental metals. How are they? Do you have any good recipes to share?
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  #9  
Old 10-30-2012, 08:48 PM
Dr. Strangelove Dr. Strangelove is offline
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Out of curiosity, what is your favorite metal? I am myself slowly building a collection of 50x50 mm cylinders of various metals. The copper one is the most beautiful, but the tungsten is my favorite. It seems unnaturally heavy.

I may have to switch to a smaller size when I get to the less prevalent elements...
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  #10  
Old 10-30-2012, 08:52 PM
Dr. Strangelove Dr. Strangelove is offline
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Originally Posted by Senegoid View Post
I've never tried elemental metals. How are they? Do you have any good recipes to share?
Mix equal molar quantities of elemental sodium and chlorine gas and react. Recrystallize in evaporated aqueous solution and grind to desired size. Add to any savory dish for seasoning. Substitute potassium if sodium is not available.
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  #11  
Old 10-30-2012, 08:53 PM
the_diego the_diego is offline
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My own current favorite is titanium. My titanium-handled pocket knife collection is growing. I want my titanium reserves to equal that of a small country.

http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8314/8...1de7095c_c.jpg
three_open1 by hank_rearden, on Flickr

Another favorite is rhenium, one of the last naturally-occurring metals to be discovered, almost as valuable as gold.

Still with knives, EOD kits in the US army once included beryllium-nickel knives; made so as to be non-magnetic.

Last edited by the_diego; 10-30-2012 at 08:56 PM..
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  #12  
Old 10-30-2012, 08:54 PM
Tatterdemalion Tatterdemalion is online now
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Originally Posted by Dr. Strangelove View Post
Out of curiosity, what is your favorite metal? I am myself slowly building a collection of 50x50 mm cylinders of various metals. The copper one is the most beautiful, but the tungsten is my favorite. It seems unnaturally heavy.

I may have to switch to a smaller size when I get to the less prevalent elements...
May I suggest that trusting Dr. Strangelove with the Plutonium might be unwise?
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  #13  
Old 10-30-2012, 08:57 PM
Dr. Strangelove Dr. Strangelove is offline
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Originally Posted by Tatterdemalion View Post
May I suggest that trusting Dr. Strangelove with the Plutonium might be unwise?
I tried acquiring some in exchange for some pinball machine parts from some Libyans, but someone had beaten me to it.
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  #14  
Old 10-30-2012, 09:02 PM
the_diego the_diego is offline
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"Yahoo!"
"Yahoo!"
"Yahoo!"
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  #15  
Old 10-30-2012, 10:14 PM
Napier Napier is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dr. Strangelove View Post
Out of curiosity, what is your favorite metal? I am myself slowly building a collection of 50x50 mm cylinders of various metals. The copper one is the most beautiful, but the tungsten is my favorite. It seems unnaturally heavy.

I may have to switch to a smaller size when I get to the less prevalent elements...
Tungsten is a favorite, yes. I wish I had a much bigger piece. I used to have a 3" by 7" by 0.5" piece that felt like a magnet clinging to whatever I set it on.
Iridium is perhaps my favorite. It's a rough ball of 1 g mass. It always feels greasy. I hope to get a similar piece of osmium.
Gadolinium is very nifty. Hold it under the cold water tap and then it will stick to a magnet, but hold it under the hot tap and it won't.
I have a block of titanium half the size of a chalk eraser, with several different textures on the sides.
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  #16  
Old 10-30-2012, 10:25 PM
Napier Napier is online now
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Originally Posted by Dr. Strangelove View Post
Material safety data sheets are usually short on alarmism.
Actually, all three of my alarmism examples were from MSDSs. Thr skin cream was Borden's. I liked the MSDSS for water best, but I don't remember if it pointed out the inhalation hazard.
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  #17  
Old 10-30-2012, 10:31 PM
AaronX AaronX is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dr. Strangelove View Post
Out of curiosity, what is your favorite metal? I am myself slowly building a collection of 50x50 mm cylinders of various metals. The copper one is the most beautiful, but the tungsten is my favorite. It seems unnaturally heavy.

I may have to switch to a smaller size when I get to the less prevalent elements...
Have you considered niobium? I worked with it, and I think it's underrated. Hard, corrosion resistant and nontoxic. Also has a high melting point.

Last edited by AaronX; 10-30-2012 at 10:33 PM..
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  #18  
Old 10-30-2012, 10:42 PM
Sitnam Sitnam is offline
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Originally Posted by johnpost View Post
ingestable forms like dust are a hazard.

items are plated with it for protection.
I work with it daily.

This is my understanding.
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  #19  
Old 10-30-2012, 11:19 PM
Dr. Strangelove Dr. Strangelove is offline
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Originally Posted by Napier View Post
Actually, all three of my alarmism examples were from MSDSs. Thr skin cream was Borden's. I liked the MSDSS for water best, but I don't remember if it pointed out the inhalation hazard.
Are you sure these were real MSDSs? They sound like jokes to me, especially the water one. Not that I haven't seen similarly stupid stuff on various warning labels--but that's not an MSDS.
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  #20  
Old 10-30-2012, 11:45 PM
Dr. Strangelove Dr. Strangelove is offline
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Originally Posted by AaronX View Post
Have you considered niobium? I worked with it, and I think it's underrated. Hard, corrosion resistant and nontoxic. Also has a high melting point.
Neat! Looks somewhat expensive, but not much more so than tungsten. Still, gotta fill out some of the more common elements first. I have a huge slug of magnesium that I want to machine down, but the machine shop I go to won't let me... grrrr. It's really not as dangerous as it's made out to be.
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  #21  
Old 10-31-2012, 12:43 AM
the_diego the_diego is offline
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I've seen a piece of magnesium ignite when a joker pressed it against a bench grinder. It was a wheel truck for a skateboard.

I like to collect metals but in functional form, not just bars or grains. So aside from titanium-handled knives, I keep gold and silver chains. Tungsten sounds nice but my choices are just rings and dart sets. I have nightmares about putting on a tungsten ring that gets too tight. How does one cut it out, with a diamond file?
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  #22  
Old 10-31-2012, 01:14 AM
Dr. Strangelove Dr. Strangelove is offline
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Originally Posted by the_diego View Post
I have nightmares about putting on a tungsten ring that gets too tight. How does one cut it out, with a diamond file?
Most "tungsten" rings are actually tungsten carbide, which is strong but very brittle (I use tungsten carbide end mills when machining, and have broken pieces off of them with a 4-inch drop onto a hard surface). At any rate, see here for an easy removal technique.
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  #23  
Old 10-31-2012, 01:17 AM
DJ Motorbike DJ Motorbike is offline
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Originally Posted by Dr. Strangelove View Post
Neat! Looks somewhat expensive, but not much more so than tungsten. Still, gotta fill out some of the more common elements first. I have a huge slug of magnesium that I want to machine down, but the machine shop I go to won't let me... grrrr. It's really not as dangerous as it's made out to be.
I spent eight hours today milling magnesium parts on a CNC today. You have to get it to about 1200 degrees F before it ignites. It's perfectly safe to machine.
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  #24  
Old 10-31-2012, 01:20 AM
Dr. Strangelove Dr. Strangelove is offline
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Originally Posted by the_diego View Post
I've seen a piece of magnesium ignite when a joker pressed it against a bench grinder. It was a wheel truck for a skateboard.
Yeah, I would say sufficient instructions for magnesium are "don't be stupid"; then again, people can be astonishingly stupid. Anyone who has used a bench grinder before knows they produce droplets of molten metal. But except in very special cases, metal lathes and milling machines don't get anywhere close to producing those temperatures--if they are, you're usually doing something wrong.

I understand the policy, but it's clearly aimed at the bottom 5%. I suppose everyone has to live with the ban so that 5% doesn't burn down the shop.

Last edited by Dr. Strangelove; 10-31-2012 at 01:20 AM..
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  #25  
Old 10-31-2012, 01:23 AM
Dr. Strangelove Dr. Strangelove is offline
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Originally Posted by DJ Motorbike View Post
I spent eight hours today milling magnesium parts on a CNC today. You have to get it to about 1200 degrees F before it ignites. It's perfectly safe to machine.
That's definitely the impression I get. But it's a "public" shop and while we've signed enough disclaimers that they don't care (much) if we injure ourselves, their insurance company certainly cares if someone burns down the shop. So none of that. Or beryllium either, for that matter.
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  #26  
Old 10-31-2012, 06:00 AM
Ruken Ruken is offline
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Originally Posted by Napier View Post
I hope to get a similar piece of osmium.
Just please be careful of the tetroxide. I don't know if that forms quickly enough to be a hazard, or just enough to be stinky. Anyone know?
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  #27  
Old 10-31-2012, 07:57 AM
hibernicus hibernicus is offline
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Here is something I was told by my chemistry lecturer in college. If you cut yourself with a piece of beryllium (the example he gave was a beryllium watch spring), the wound will not heal (or will be very slow to heal).

If he explained the reason for this, I don't remember it (it's more than 20 years ago).
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  #28  
Old 10-31-2012, 08:00 AM
CalMeacham CalMeacham is offline
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Beryllium dust, as noted, is a serious issue, to the point where beryllium is, I understand, machined in a glove box. It's not only the pure metal -- Berylliujm Oxide, if powdered, is similarly dangerous, as is glass based on beryllium oxide. (So, of course, I once found a really good use for powdered beryllium oxide glass. Which I never tried out.) I know that beryllium on a large piece isn't a problem, but I'd still worry about any metal or oxide dust, and wouldn't want to handle it.
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  #29  
Old 10-31-2012, 08:18 AM
billfish678 billfish678 is offline
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There was an old story floating around in the amateur optics making community back in the day. An optician was given a mirror made out of Be to work on. IIRC he wasn't grinding it, just polishing it. And it killed him. Now grinding a mirror can release a fair quanty of timy but not supper tiny particles. But then again they would be in a water slurry so should be fairly contained. It certainly would not be anything like hitting it with a belt grinder. Polishing (or the final stage figuring) removes a very small amount of material and again I would think most of the stuff would stay contained in the water slurry. But apparently not or it doesn't take much of the stuff to do you in.

That story scared me enough that any work I would ever do with Be would be done quite carefully.

I'd like to make a kayak or canoe paddle out the stuff. Would be amazingly lite.

Recall a story about a bike frame made out of the stuff. Cost like 30K. It got stolen. Wonder if the thief realized it wasnt just one of those "cheap" 3k or so models?
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  #30  
Old 10-31-2012, 09:12 AM
lazybratsche lazybratsche is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dr. Strangelove View Post
Are you sure these were real MSDSs? They sound like jokes to me, especially the water one. Not that I haven't seen similarly stupid stuff on various warning labels--but that's not an MSDS.
Here's real MSDS for water from IDT, full of ridiculous warnings:
Quote:
3. Hazard Identification
WARNING!! THIS PRODUCT MAY BE HARMFUL IF SWALLOWED, INHALED OR ABSORBED IN EXCESS THROUGH THE SKIN. MAY CAUSE IRRITATION TO SKIN, EYES, AND RESPIRATORY TRACT. Toxicological Properties have not been thoroughly investigated.
...
4. First Aid Measures
Inhalation:
Remove to fresh air. Get medical attention for any breathing difficulties.
Ingestion:
Induce vomiting and call for medical help. If large amounts were swallowed, seek medical advice.
Skin Contact:
Generally this product does not irritate the skin. Seek medical advice if exposed areas continue to be irritated.
Eye Contact:
Irrigate eyes for at least 15 minutes. Seek medical advice if exposed areas continue to be irritated
...
Extreme cold can change composition from a liquid to a slick solid. Extreme depths can cause drowning.
In contrast, this water MSDS from Sigma is mostly sensible:
Quote:
4. FIRST AID MEASURES
If inhaled
If not breathing give artificial respiration
...
Hand protection
Handle with gloves. Gloves must be inspected prior to use. Use proper glove removal technique (without touching
glove's outer surface) to avoid skin contact with this product.
I'm guessing that Sigma puts more effort into making an appropriate MSDS, since they are in the business of selling nearly every commercially available chemical. IDT, in contrast, only sells a a handful of non-hazardous reagents (their main business is DNA synthesis). So they probably just copied some standard boilerplate for all eleven of their MSDSs.

And to be fair, it's a good idea to rinse your eyes after any sort of chemical exposure. NaCl to the eye, for example, wouldn't cause any major damage but it would sting like a motherfucker.
[/hijack]

Last edited by lazybratsche; 10-31-2012 at 09:13 AM..
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  #31  
Old 10-31-2012, 09:26 AM
Gagundathar Gagundathar is offline
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I am somewhat familiar with MSDSs and find this sentence to be rather difficult to imagine being part of a warning about ANY hazardous material.
Quote:
Extreme depths can cause drowning.
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  #32  
Old 10-31-2012, 09:27 AM
jnglmassiv jnglmassiv is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dr. Strangelove View Post
Out of curiosity, what is your favorite metal?
A must for any metals collection is a bismuth crystal. I'm on my phone at the moment but if you have never seen one, it is worth searching for. Quite affordable on ebay, unlike, say, osmium and far more attractive.
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  #33  
Old 10-31-2012, 09:29 AM
Ludovic Ludovic is offline
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Quote:
Eye Contact:
Irrigate eyes for at least 15 minutes.
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  #34  
Old 10-31-2012, 03:09 PM
Snickers Snickers is offline
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Heh - I was thinking the same thing! "With what?"
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  #35  
Old 10-31-2012, 03:39 PM
Dr. Strangelove Dr. Strangelove is offline
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Originally Posted by lazybratsche View Post
Here's real MSDS for water from IDT, full of ridiculous warnings:
I take it you missed this line?:
MSDS Number: IDT004---Effective 2/12/04 Revised 4/1/06
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  #36  
Old 10-31-2012, 04:43 PM
lazybratsche lazybratsche is online now
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Originally Posted by Dr. Strangelove View Post
I take it you missed this line?:
MSDS Number: IDT004---Effective 2/12/04 Revised 4/1/06
I did miss that, but I'm not sure how it's relevant. Why does it matter that their MSDS was revised six years ago? A MSDS doesn't expire as far as I know, and it's still what they have posted on their website (you can see all eleven here)

Quote:
Originally Posted by Snickers View Post
Heh - I was thinking the same thing! "With what?"
Obviously you want to rinse out the Dangerous Chemical High Purity Water with much safer tap water that's been sitting in the eye wash station's plumbing for the past two years. (You're supposed to flush out the pipes on a regular basis, but a lot of people don't. The "water" that comes out is brown and full of flaky rust. Just what you want in your eye..)

Last edited by lazybratsche; 10-31-2012 at 04:47 PM..
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  #37  
Old 10-31-2012, 04:45 PM
Ludovic Ludovic is offline
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Originally Posted by lazybratsche View Post
I did miss that, but I'm not sure how it's relevant. Why does it matter that their MSDS was revised six years ago? A MSDS doesn't expire as far as I know, and it's still what they have posted on their website (you can see all eleven here)
Look at the exact date closer.
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  #38  
Old 10-31-2012, 04:57 PM
lazybratsche lazybratsche is online now
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Got it now. I guess some chemical safety officers do have a sense of humor, regardless of all evidence to the contrary.
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  #39  
Old 10-31-2012, 05:23 PM
minor7flat5 minor7flat5 is offline
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Originally Posted by lazybratsche View Post
Got it now. I guess some chemical safety officers do have a sense of humor, regardless of all evidence to the contrary.
Years ago I worked in the chemical stockroom at a pharmaceutical company, with all kinds of wicked stuff on the shelves. We used to chuckle at the scary warnings printed on the distilled water and the sand.

Around Christmas time, the J.T. Baker sales rep always dropped off a supply of peppermint candy packaged in official plastic Baker chemical jars, exactly like containers of sodium acetate or similar reagents. They even listed bogus warnings on the side, such as "may cause damage to waistline"

I think they even provided an MSDS.

I always got a kick out of that.
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  #40  
Old 10-31-2012, 05:26 PM
Michael63129 Michael63129 is offline
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Water is dangerous, you know.
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  #41  
Old 10-31-2012, 05:47 PM
Senegoid Senegoid is offline
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What is it about certain metals that make them toxically dangerous while others aren't? I mean, I've always heard of the danger of "heavy metals" like lead and some others. But is it just the atomic weight of a metal that determines if it is toxic? Beryllium certainly isn't high in the heavyweight category.
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  #42  
Old 10-31-2012, 06:27 PM
Dr. Strangelove Dr. Strangelove is offline
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Originally Posted by Senegoid View Post
What is it about certain metals that make them toxically dangerous while others aren't? I mean, I've always heard of the danger of "heavy metals" like lead and some others. But is it just the atomic weight of a metal that determines if it is toxic? Beryllium certainly isn't high in the heavyweight category.
I don't think that there's any universal toxicity pattern. There seem to be a lot of ways that they can poison you.

If you consider the periodic table as a whole and take away those elements which are used by the body (mostly the lower-numbered elements since these are more common) and those which are chemically nonreactive (the noble gases), the remaining ones are mostly pretty dangerous, and mostly metals.

There is one semi-common poisoning path that I can think of, which is that some elements can replace others because they behave similarly chemically. For instance, calcium in your bones can be replaced with lead or cadmium. Your body doesn't have much of a natural defense against this happening because they aren't that common in pure form. And unfortunately, while they are similar chemically, they aren't identical, and so it ends up weakening your bones.
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  #43  
Old 10-31-2012, 08:51 PM
Napier Napier is online now
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Originally Posted by jnglmassiv View Post
A must for any metals collection is a bismuth crystal. I'm on my phone at the moment but if you have never seen one, it is worth searching for. Quite affordable on ebay, unlike, say, osmium and far more attractive.
I have a few pounds of bismuth, too, as broken ingot. It is diamagnetic enough that a bismuth plumb bob hung near a powerful magnet will stay barely visibly out of plumb due to repelling the magnet. Diamagnetism is not the sort of thing you expect to be able to see working with your own eyes.
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  #44  
Old 10-31-2012, 09:00 PM
gotpasswords gotpasswords is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hibernicus
If you cut yourself with a piece of beryllium (the example he gave was a beryllium watch spring), the wound will not heal (or will be very slow to heal).
I knew a guy who many years ago, sliced his finger on a BeCu motor brush spring or something along those lines, and it left him a weird divot in the side of the finger, so the stuff is apparently toxic on internal contact regardless of how safe it may be to touch it with unbroken skin.
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