Model Engine Maker

Help! => Mistakes, muckups, and dangerous behaviour => Topic started by: strictlybusiness1 on July 03, 2015, 12:18:15 PM

Post by: strictlybusiness1 on July 03, 2015, 12:18:15 PM
This was published in American Iron Magazine in the August 2009 issue.

 Please read and pass it on.

Brake Cleaner = Phosgene Gas

By Steve 'brewdude' Garn

Yep, I thought  this time I was a goner! How simple it was to get in trouble. Please take the time to read this and pass it on. After time we see and read many warning labels that we no longer heed. We buy chemicals and sprays at a local parts house and think to ourselves how can this be so bad health wise if we use it, I am buying it over the counter? So, this is how my story starts.

So I had a rush job welding 4 diesel semi tanks to patch that were pitted from road salt corrosion. Normally I spray a little carb cleaner, wipe it off, light the acetylene torch and preheat to get rid of any solvents. The gas station close to the shop was out of carb cleaner so I picked up a can of brake cleaner and went thru my regular routine. I even had the shop door open and the exhaust fan on. I started TIG welding (3pm Thursday) and had no problem in the beginning. Then, I started welding across a really pitted area and came across a couple of drops of cleaner still left in a deep pit. When I came close a small puff of white smoke puffed and immediately almost passed out. I then made it outside and sat for a while in the fresh air. After about 10 minutes I went to the office at the house and sat at the computer to check the warnings on the brake cleaner can when my whole left side started shaking for about 10-15 minutes. The can said ĎVapors may decompose to harmful or fatal corrosive gases such as hydrogen chloride and possibly phosgene.

After reading about Hydrogen Chloride and then started researching phosgene. The chemical in the brake cleaner is Tetrachloroethylene. When this chemical is exposed with excessive heat and argon (used in MIG and TIG welding) it also produces phosgene.

Some Phosgene facts. Google Phosgene and read more!

It can be fatal with a dose as little as 4 parts per million.

Symptoms can be delayed from 6-48 hours after exposure.

There is NO antidote for Phosgene.

Long term effects can be chronic bronchitis and emphysema.



My breathing still was hard. So I called my wife in town (20 mins. away) and she said to call the ambulance which I didn't do. I waited at home for another hour and felt a little better so I decided to drive into town and meet my wife for supper and also living way out in the country brought me closer to the hospital in case I felt worse. The chlorine taste and smell in my nose and mouth was still very strong but went out later for pizza and then went to watch a basketball game. I felt a little better until I went outside after the game into the fresh air and then the smell and taste of chlorine almost overwhelmed me. I still went home hoping time would make me feel better.
About midnight (Thursday) I started coughing, my chest started hurting but thought that this would pass after a nights sleep. The next day (Friday)symptoms got worse and kidneys started hurting so I drank a bunch of liquids and cranberry juice. For 4 days pissed a lot of clear fluid with no smell. On Saturday I was really in a lot of pain. On Sunday I felt a little better and went to a friendís house to watch the superbowl game. When I came home I felt very weak and tired. Monday I still was about the same. Tuesday I felt a little better and went into the shop for a couple of hours. Piss was very dark and a lot of smell this day. Still couldn't crap. Wednesday felt pretty good and I worked for about 5 hours. Thursday was even better day so I decided I would drive to Cincy with Chad to the VTwin expo on Friday. I felt okay but was very tired and weak. That Saturday I went out with friends but I didnít feel quite right.  I felt crappy on Sunday and left the expo about 2pm. The trip home was 375 miles and arrived home about 10pm that night feeling very tired. My wife made the comment that I looked awful (some home greeting). At midnight I lost all balance, was dazed, confused and could hardly talk so I then went to the Emergency room. My symptoms were Oxygen level low, sugar out of control, vertigo and I was hurting badly in my entire chest. They admitted me and put me in the ICU. They said my kidneys had probably shut down for those 4 days, my lungs were damaged so I had to be on oxygen and that I would have to be on insulin to keep my sugar in check. The doctor and neurologist called CDC to try to figure out what to do since there is no antidote for phosgene. Basically to try to rest and hope it gets better. After CT, MRI, EKGs, EEG and several other blood tests it looked like at this time there was no permanent damage. The EEG was taken because of the shaking earlier of my left side was a seizure caused by the chemicals. The EEG determined that there was no permanent damage. But the MRI showed fluid in sinuses and a build up of fluids near the brain. The gas scarred up my sinuses and then became infected causing these fluids. The 3 doctors I saw said I was really lucky to make it.
Now it has been 4 weeks. Another Doctor who specializes in toxology is now seeing me. He thinks I may have emphysema and chronic bronchitis. So at this time I am on nasal medicine and an inhaler. My sinuses are severely scarred and nose smell nerves are damaged. I still have that awful chlorine taste and smell. I am also going to ear, nose throat Dr on Thursday. I will also  know later on any pancreas damage from the blood tests that I had taken. The insulin that I was taking had little effect on sugar and I can't keep it in control. So we are trying a different approach with Lantos (long lasting insulin) and other medicines. Sleeping is off and on and I will have a sleep test next Tuesday. I am feeling somewhat better but still very tired. This will go on for a while but I have full faith that all will be fine after time.


On some forums some suggest using a cleaner without this chemical. Other chemicals I found in other sprays in my shop include, xylene, toluene, methylene chloride, ketones, pentane, cyclohexanes, heptane, methyl ethyl ketone (MEK), methanol, tetrahydrofuran and petroleum napththa. There are actually more but you get my point, right? All the chemicals listed above have heath issues! So check your sprays and know the health hazards and their correct use.

Chris Maida has called and checked up on me several times. He said it is a shame I went thru this ordeal. But, I disagree. If it saves someone an illness or a death it is worth going thru this if this is what it takes.

Please read labels and warnings. Look up the chemicals you use. Also keep these sites and phone numbers nearby.  Phone # 1-800-222-1222
Post by: Stuart on July 03, 2015, 03:33:41 PM
Yes I have read that chaps brush before make you think though

We are all guilty of not reading the safety labels , the trouble is over the counter stuff only shows an abridged version .

I was part of the COSH team at the bank I worked for in the engineering dept Computor Centres , and the full breakdown took ages to work though , we had to ban the use of bleach for the contract cleaners ( toilets ect) but we could use it under the regs , if you what some bad stuff look up R11 now banned ,
Or just mix bleach and scouring powder ( vim ect ) that give off chlorine  and most house hold have them both together under the sink

Thanks for the heads up

Post by: strictlybusiness1 on July 03, 2015, 08:02:04 PM

I agree completely with your statement. Here is some more information about Phosgene.

"Phosgene is also formed as an undesirable by-product when certain chlorinated hydrocarbons (especially dichloromethane, carbon tetrachloride, chloroform, trichloroethylene, perchloroethylene and hexachloroethane) come into contact with an open flame or hot metal, as in welding. The decomposition of chlorinated hydrocarbons in closed rooms can result in the accumulation of harmful concentrations of phosgene, as for example from the use of carbon tetrachloride as a fire-extinguishing material, or tetrachloroethylene as a lubricant in the machining of high-grade steel."
"Phosgene is one of the most poisonous gases used in industry. The inhalation of 50 ppm for a short time is fatal to test animals. For humans, prolonged inhalation of 2 to 5 ppm is dangerous. An additional hazardous property of phosgene is the lack of all warning symptoms during its inhalation, which may merely cause light irritation of the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract and eye at concentrations of 4 to 10 ppm. Exposure to 1 ppm for extended periods can cause delayed pulmonary oedema."

Jim Allen
Post by: Stuart on July 03, 2015, 08:21:03 PM

The most dangerouse stuff I have worked in ( note I said in ) is CO

I was a sparks at a iron works with six base exchange units , and we had to service the bell gear with the unit in full operation , we have to have a safety officer in attendance and a compressed air mask on at all times , as you may know it causes hypoxier  /sp and the first thing that fail  is your legs so you cannot get out, we also had to enter the precipitators , with the juice off but some gas was present

It's  a sad case that the most useful chemicals are the most dangerouse , when you see large tanks of chorine being delivered ( for cooling tower water treatment ) it bring it home big time .

But hey I am still here at 67 but you never know when the things you used to use will bite you.

BTW your engine series is very good but alas I am not knowlagble enough to comment although I used to race .19 engined cars with up to 90% nitro with home made flat slide carbs , engines were highly ported and revved up to your top end but piston ring life was about 30 minuets

Post by: Mosey on July 03, 2015, 10:34:38 PM
Chlorine gas? Stupid mistakes?
I wanted to clean the crud and corrosion off the battery and battery box in a car I was selling, so I poured some liquid blue print 7% ammonia solution on it. It immediately dissolved the corrosion and crud on the battery, but it also made a huge invisible cloud of gas in my driveway in which I was standing. I luckily ran away quickly, but almost knocked myself for a permanent outage. The burning and eye irritation was incredible. I recommend not doing that.
Mosey   :hammerbash: :slap: