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Health effects of bare brass

David Roach

Senior Member
Messages
712
Locality
London
Does anyone have any persuasive knowledge, either scientific or medical or experiential, about the effects on health of handling bare brass instruments over a long period?

I know that both Copper, and Lead which is often in Brass to improve machinability, can both be toxic to an extent, depending I suppose on how much is absorbed through the skin. I can't say I really like the smell of it on my hands.

I've tried the search function and haven't turned up a thread on this subject, but if I didn't look hard enough and someone can point me to a good discussion I would be most grateful.

Many thanks.
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
Café Supporter
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21,912
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Just north of Munich
I can't remember a thread on this since I've been a member here. Although we did discuss lead once or twice. Modern saxes are all made from lead free brass, but there doesn't seem to be any reliable info about how much lead is in older instruments - or if it's relevant.
 

altissimo

Well-Known Member
Messages
3,349
Locality
leicester
The only health warnings about brass I can find refer to inhalation of dust and fumes when machining and brazing etc. otherwise it's designated non toxic - http://www.omnisource.com/content/msds/brass_and_copper_alloys.pdf
"Brass and copper alloys in their solid state present no inhalation, ingestion or contact health hazard. However, inhaling dusts, fumes or mists which may be generated during certain manufacturing procedures (burning, melting, welding, sawing, brazing, grinding, and machining) may be hazardous to
your health. Dusts may also be irritating to the unprotected skin or eyes"
We can assume that you'd have to be playing very hot jazz before those hazardous conditions would apply

I'm not keen on that brassy smell on my hands from old saxes either and always have to wash it off afterwards, but it smells more unwholesome than it is.
I don't think there's going to be very much absorbtion through the skin and the amounts of copper or zinc you're likely to absorb would be far less than you'd ingest as part of a normal healthy diet.
Eating food cooked in a copper pan would probably give you a far higher dose. Copper coins are deemed safe to handle.
Zinc is often taken as a health supplement and along with copper is necessary for the body to function properly. Unlike some metals, copper and zinc don't build up in the body.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copper_in_health
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zinc#Dietary_supplement
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zinc_toxicity

I've known people who wore those copper bracelets that are supposed to be good for arthritis and apart from a green stain on the wrist, they didn't seem to suffer any ill effects

If, as is sometimes suggested, older saxes were made from 70/30 'cartridge' brass, then there's no lead content. Generally, it's only the brasses with less than 60% copper that may have lead added to improve high speed machinability and these alloys wouldn't be suitable for the kind of sheet metal work involved in making a sax body - they would be harder to work, less malleable and more likely to split.
I think I read one company claiming sonic benefits from 66% copper brass, but nothing lower than 63% copper is recommended for cold working. These are what are referred to as alpha brasses.
"Lead is not added to wrought alpha brasses since, in the absence of sufficient beta phase, it gives rise to cracking during hot working"
- http://admin.copperalliance.eu/docs...ection-6-types-of-brass.pdf?sfvrsn=2&sfvrsn=2
since "hot working" includes rolling the stuff into sheet or bar in the rolling mill, I doubt you'd find much sheet brass with lead in it.
I've yet to find anyone willing to file a bit off their Mark VI and send it for metallurgical analysis..

Keywork components may have been stamped out under a press or die cast, again not the kind of application for leaded brasses. It's possible that pillars and hinge tubes could be made of leaded brass, but I don't think many companies would go to the trouble of ordering a different type of brass for such relatively simple components and those aren't parts that you come into contact with very often anyway

there's some research on lead absorbtion through the skin here, if you're bothered - .http://www.hygenall.com/Skin_Absorption.pdf
I don't know if anyone's done anything on copper absorbtion

the surface area of the instrument that your hands are in contact with for any length of time is relatively small - thumb rest, side keys and the bits around the pearl key touches etc, it probably doesn't amount to more than a few square inches.
 

David Roach

Senior Member
Messages
712
Locality
London
kevgermany & altissimo, thanks very much indeed for your replies. I am talking about modern bare brass saxohones, so hopefully no lead content. But, you laid my fears to rest, thanks.
Cheers!
 

old git

Tremendous Bore
Messages
5,540
Locality
The Palm Tree strewn Wandle Surf Beach under the o
Lead wasn't so bad, as most of us oldies who grew up in Victorian or Edwardian houses had lead pipes.

I might have destroyed my argument there but copper piping is not a health hazard............yet.>:)>:)>:)
 

kernewegor

Bon vivant, raconteur and twit
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1,736
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cocks hill perranporth KERNOW
To understand properly the risks of handling metals a comprehensive understanding of molecular science is required.

From Flann O’Brien’s The Dalkey Archive...

The sergeant beckoned the waitress, ordered a barley wine for himself and a small bottle of ‘that’ for his friend. Then he leaned forward confidentially.

- Did you ever discover or hear tell of mollycules? he asked.

- I did of course.

- Would it surprise or collapse you to know that the Mollycule Theory is at work in the parish of Dalkey?

- Well… yes and no.

- It is doing terrible destruction, he continued, the half of the people is suffering from it, it is worse than the smallpox.

- Could it not be taken in hand by the Dispensary Doctor or the National Teachers, or do you think it is a matter for the head of the family?

- The lock, stock and barrel of it all, he replied almost fiercely, is the County Council.

- It seems like a complicated thing all right.

The sergeant drank delicately, deep in thought.

- Michael Gilhaney, a man I know, he said finally, is an example of a man that is nearly banjaxed from the operation of the Mollycule Theory. Would it astonish you ominously to hear that he is in danger of being a bicycle?

Mick shook his head in polite incomprehension.

- He is nearly sixty years of age by plain computation, the sergeant said, and if he is itself, he has spent no less than thirty-five years riding his bicycle over the rocky roadsteads and up and down the pertimious hills and into the deep ditches when the road goes astray in the strain of the winter. He is always going to a particular destination or other on his bicycle at every hour of the day or coming back from there at every other hour. If it wasn’t that his bicycle was stolen every Monday he would be sure to be more than halfway now.

- Halfway to where?

- Halfway to being a bloody bicycle himself.

Had Sergeant Fottrell for once betrayed himself in drunken rambling? His fancies were usually amusing but not so good when they were meaningless. When Mick said something of the kind the sergeant stared at him impatiently.

- Did you ever study the Mollycule Theory when you were a lad? he asked. Mick said no, not in any detail.

- That is a very serious defalcation and an abstruse exacerbation, he said severely, but I’ll tell you the size of it. Everything is composed of small molecules of itself and they are flying around in concentric circles and arcs and segments and innumerable various other routes too numerous to mention collectively, never standing still or resting but spinning away and darting hither and thither and back again, all the time on the go. Do you follow me intelligently? Mollycules?

- I think I do.

- They are as lively as twenty punky leprechauns doing a jig on the top of a flat tombstone. Now take a sheep. What is a sheep only millions of little bits of sheepness whirling around doing intricate convulsions inside the baste. What else is it but that?

- That would be bound to make the sheep dizzy, Mick observed, especially if the whirling was going on inside the head as well.

The sergeant gave him a look which no doubt he would describe as one of non-possum and noli-me-tangere.

- That’s a most foolhardy remark, he said sharply, because the nerve-strings and the sheep’s head itself are whirling into the same bargain and you can cancel out one whirl against the other and there you are – like simplifying a division sum when you have fives above and below the bar.

- To say the truth I did not think of that.

- Mollycules is a very intricate theorem and can be worked out with algebra but you would want to take it by degrees with rulers and cosines and familiar other instruments and then at the wind-up not believe what you had proved at all. If that happened you would have to go back to over it till you got a place where you could believe your own facts and figures as exactly delineated from Hall and Knight’s Algebra and then go on again from that particular place till you had the whole pancake properly believed and not have bits of it half-believed or a doubt in your head hearting you like when you lose the stud of your shirt in the middle of your bed.

- Very true, Mick decided to say.

- If you hit a rock hard enough and often enough with an iron hammer, some mollycules of the rock will go into the hammer and contrariwise likewise.

- That is well known, he agreed.

- The gross and net result of it is that people who spend most of their natural lives riding iron bicycles over the rocky roadsteads of the parish get their personalities mixed up with the personalities of their bicycles as a result of the interchanging of the mollycules of each of them, and you would be surprised at the number of people in country parts who are nearly half people and half bicycles.

Mick made a little gasp of astonishment that made a sound like the air coming from a bad puncture.

- Good Lord, I suppose you’re right.

- And you would be unutterably flibbergasted if you knew the number of stout bicycles that partake serenely of the humanity.
 

David Roach

Senior Member
Messages
712
Locality
London
To understand properly the risks of handling metals a comprehensive understanding of molecular science is required.

From Flann O’Brien’s The Dalkey Archive...

The sergeant beckoned the waitress, ordered a barley wine for himself and a small bottle of ‘that’ for his friend. Then he leaned forward confidentially.

- Did you ever discover or hear tell of mollycules? he asked.

- I did of course.

- Would it surprise or collapse you to know that the Mollycule Theory is at work in the parish of Dalkey?

- Well… yes and no.

- It is doing terrible destruction, he continued, the half of the people is suffering from it, it is worse than the smallpox.

- Could it not be taken in hand by the Dispensary Doctor or the National Teachers, or do you think it is a matter for the head of the family?

- The lock, stock and barrel of it all, he replied almost fiercely, is the County Council.

- It seems like a complicated thing all right.

The sergeant drank delicately, deep in thought.

- Michael Gilhaney, a man I know, he said finally, is an example of a man that is nearly banjaxed from the operation of the Mollycule Theory. Would it astonish you ominously to hear that he is in danger of being a bicycle?

Mick shook his head in polite incomprehension.

- He is nearly sixty years of age by plain computation, the sergeant said, and if he is itself, he has spent no less than thirty-five years riding his bicycle over the rocky roadsteads and up and down the pertimious hills and into the deep ditches when the road goes astray in the strain of the winter. He is always going to a particular destination or other on his bicycle at every hour of the day or coming back from there at every other hour. If it wasn’t that his bicycle was stolen every Monday he would be sure to be more than halfway now.

- Halfway to where?

- Halfway to being a bloody bicycle himself.

Had Sergeant Fottrell for once betrayed himself in drunken rambling? His fancies were usually amusing but not so good when they were meaningless. When Mick said something of the kind the sergeant stared at him impatiently.

- Did you ever study the Mollycule Theory when you were a lad? he asked. Mick said no, not in any detail.

- That is a very serious defalcation and an abstruse exacerbation, he said severely, but I’ll tell you the size of it. Everything is composed of small molecules of itself and they are flying around in concentric circles and arcs and segments and innumerable various other routes too numerous to mention collectively, never standing still or resting but spinning away and darting hither and thither and back again, all the time on the go. Do you follow me intelligently? Mollycules?

- I think I do.

- They are as lively as twenty punky leprechauns doing a jig on the top of a flat tombstone. Now take a sheep. What is a sheep only millions of little bits of sheepness whirling around doing intricate convulsions inside the baste. What else is it but that?

- That would be bound to make the sheep dizzy, Mick observed, especially if the whirling was going on inside the head as well.

The sergeant gave him a look which no doubt he would describe as one of non-possum and noli-me-tangere.

- That’s a most foolhardy remark, he said sharply, because the nerve-strings and the sheep’s head itself are whirling into the same bargain and you can cancel out one whirl against the other and there you are – like simplifying a division sum when you have fives above and below the bar.

- To say the truth I did not think of that.

- Mollycules is a very intricate theorem and can be worked out with algebra but you would want to take it by degrees with rulers and cosines and familiar other instruments and then at the wind-up not believe what you had proved at all. If that happened you would have to go back to over it till you got a place where you could believe your own facts and figures as exactly delineated from Hall and Knight’s Algebra and then go on again from that particular place till you had the whole pancake properly believed and not have bits of it half-believed or a doubt in your head hearting you like when you lose the stud of your shirt in the middle of your bed.

- Very true, Mick decided to say.

- If you hit a rock hard enough and often enough with an iron hammer, some mollycules of the rock will go into the hammer and contrariwise likewise.

- That is well known, he agreed.

- The gross and net result of it is that people who spend most of their natural lives riding iron bicycles over the rocky roadsteads of the parish get their personalities mixed up with the personalities of their bicycles as a result of the interchanging of the mollycules of each of them, and you would be surprised at the number of people in country parts who are nearly half people and half bicycles.

Mick made a little gasp of astonishment that made a sound like the air coming from a bad puncture.

- Good Lord, I suppose you’re right.

- And you would be unutterably flibbergasted if you knew the number of stout bicycles that partake serenely of the humanity.

Tsch, tsch, morning drinking again kernewegor!
 

Targa

Among the pigeons
Café Supporter
Messages
9,461
Locality
KIC 8462852
Handling bare brass you can get a health problem for which you need penicillin.
 

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