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Coal smoke & lungs

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Been surfing the forum the last few hours (mostly waiting for my dialup connection) looking for info on how coal smoke affects the lungs--is it a cumulative effect, minor irritant, does the smoke effect differ from green coal to coke smoke? Found some links that looked good but they just took me back to the forums front page. I have my forge set up in the wood shed these days, which amounts to a roof 10' above me, two walls made of old 1 x 6 boards 8' tall (pretty airy) one wall made of stacked cord wood, and an open side. Ventilation couldn't be a lot better, but on still nights the smoke can still build up in there so that I smell of coal when I come inside. Frequently I can feel some heaviness in my chest after a few hours of hammer time. Haven't experienced any side effects like headaches, shortness of breath, or anything like that, but I did start wondering about it.

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Hey Tim

My forge is totally outside and I still smell like coal :-)

If it bothers you, wear a dust mask or go get a cheapo box fan and have it blow across the forge towards an opening. better yet, install a chimney of some sort.

One thing I know for sure is that there are lots of Blacksmiths throughout the ages that worked a coal forge everyday for 8+ hrs throughout their entire working career, and the larger portion of them died as old men.

I can safely deduct that while coal smoke isn't very good for you,or the environment, it's not the noxious poison that a lot of people make it out to be.

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...
I can safely deduct that while coal smoke isn't very good for you,or the environment, it's not the noxious poison that a lot of people make it out to be.


There is one toxic effect of coal smoke that is very clear. It is now the primary source of biologically available mercury in the environment (after the gold mining and chlor-alkali processes got cleaned up). I once asked an environmental scientist whether breathing coal smoke will lead to mercury accumulation. She said that she wasn't sure, but I should look into the increasing concentration moving up the food chain.

So, whenever anybody asks that question at a demo, I always say that the mercury in coal smoke needs to be concentrated by several orders of magnitude before it is of concern. Then, I ask, "Who's at the top of the food chain." Most people get this one wrong. They answer "sharks, lions, people". The correct answer is babies. The ones who are not on a formula diet sit on that rarified rung just above humans, unless mommy is a vegetarian. Berkeley people usually get this one correct.

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Trace elements are defined as elements present in coal in amounts of less than 1 percent by weight. Generally, trace elements are present in coal in amounts much lower 1 percent, and are reported in parts-per-million (ppm) by weight in the coal. A trace element concentration of 1 ppm = 0.0001% by weight, or expressed in another way, a 1 ppm concentration of a trace element equals one pound in one million pounds (500 tons) of coal. Most trace elements in West Virginia coals are present at levels of 10 to 100 ppm, or less.

The following Hazardous Air Pollutant (HAP) Trace Elements have been reported in WV coal.
* Arsenic (As)
* Beryllium (Be)
* Cadmium (Cd)
* Cobalt (Co)
* Chromium (Cr)
* Mercury (Hg)
* Manganese (Mn)
* Nickel (Ni)
* Lead (Pb)
* Antimony (Sb)
* Selenium (Se)
* Chlorine (Cl)
* Fluorine (F)
* Uranium (U)
* Thorium (Th)
* Ash Distribution
* Total Sulfur Distribution
* Pyritic Sulfur Distribution
reference

1 ppm concentration of a trace element equals one pound in one million pounds (500 tons) of coal.

You can remove the coal smoke from your work area by a fan, chimney, or other device that moves the air to a different location. A simple window box fan blowing across your body shoulder-to-shoulder will work. A simple side draft chimney, nothing more than a pipe with a hole near the fire works. Anything to remove what is in the air you do not want to breathe is better than doing nothing at all.

I worked a outside forge during a demo using industrial coke. A breeze was usually present and continually shifted direction. The warm exhaust from the forge was the only thing that alerted you to the wind shift as there was NO smoke at all. Within an hour I had a massive headache and had to turn the demo over to another blacksmith. The only thing I could relate the headache to was the exhaust from the forge, and strongly suspect I inhaled enough CO, CO2 etc that it caused problems. You must use caution with gas forges for the same reason. We suggest CO and CO2 detectors with gas forges, but a smoke detector is a good idea for a coal forge. It will tell you if there is smoke present and you should take measures to remove the smoke from the area.

You drive a car that puts out exhaust fumes, along with many other vehicles on the way to work. You do not realize the amount of exhaust, rubber dust from the tires, brake pad dust from the brakes, tires atomizing the oil deposited on the highway from leaking engines, the general road dirt, winter salt, etc, etc that you inhale on the way to work each day.

How clean you want the air you breathe is a personal decision.

The bottom line is that if you can see it, smell it, taste it, or have to chew before you swallow, it is NOT air.

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If you were installing an exhaust system for a manufacturing plant what would you do? Would allow that kind of concentration of fumes to build up in a space occupied by a worker? If the answer is no, then you need to get some form of venting or stack on your fire. A lot of years ago a friend of mine died and they did an autopsy on him. He wasn't all that old but they found some interesting things about his lungs. We had been in the Navy together and we did learn smithing together. There is a little chore you do to boilers called "scraping fire sides". Chunks of burned fuel oil would come off the fire sides and we inhaled it, got in our lungs, no problem, coughed it up right. My friend and I learned smithing, had coal fires, smoke and ash aplenty. He had to have surgery and died on the table so they did an autopsy and of course looked at his lungs. Oh, the xxxx they found there, chunks of burned fuel oil and ash from our forge fire. Real fine stuff all over the top portion of his lungs. Jim didn't die because of this wonderful stuff in his lungs but it sure wasn't good for him either. All these years later I have a slight deficiency in my breathing capacity, is it from not having a stack on my fire? I don't know but with what I know now I think I would have done more to adequately ventilate my shop from both my forge fire and my arc welder. Who knows what trouble we'll have in our last days.

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Hey Tim

My forge is totally outside and I still smell like coal :-)

If it bothers you, wear a dust mask or go get a cheapo box fan and have it blow across the forge towards an opening. better yet, install a chimney of some sort.

One thing I know for sure is that there are lots of Blacksmiths throughout the ages that worked a coal forge everyday for 8+ hrs throughout their entire working career, and the larger portion of them died as old men.

I can safely deduct that while coal smoke isn't very good for you,or the environment, it's not the noxious poison that a lot of people make it out to be.

Actually, I don't mind the smell, kinda like the smell of burned gun powder, and hamburgers. :D

That's kinda the way I always thought about it too, but then I started wondering about the sulfur getting into my lungs, combining with water and forming sulfuric acid....FFWD>> a few years and the possibility of scar tissue left from sulfuric acid burns in my lungs sounded too much like what's going on with asbestosis and that stuff, so I figured I best look into it since I'll be 60 when my youngest gets out of high school....but then again, I just explained to a guy the other day that his dirty air filter was representative of what we breath in, in the same time period, and our bodies amazing ability to cleanse itself. Then again, I thought of the coal miners of yesteryear. Sure they died young, of blacklung, but that was after years of breathing green coal dust...so I figgured I best ask anyways cause I been told I think too much... :mellow: :blink:

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If you were installing an exhaust system for a manufacturing plant what would you do? Would allow that kind of concentration of fumes to build up in a space occupied by a worker? If the answer is no, then you need to get some form of venting or stack on your fire. A lot of years ago a friend of mine died and they did an autopsy on him. He wasn't all that old but they found some interesting things about his lungs. We had been in the Navy together and we did learn smithing together. There is a little chore you do to boilers called "scraping fire sides". Chunks of burned fuel oil would come off the fire sides and we inhaled it, got in our lungs, no problem, coughed it up right. My friend and I learned smithing, had coal fires, smoke and ash aplenty. He had to have surgery and died on the table so they did an autopsy and of course looked at his lungs. Oh, the xxxx they found there, chunks of burned fuel oil and ash from our forge fire. Real fine stuff all over the top portion of his lungs. Jim didn't die because of this wonderful stuff in his lungs but it sure wasn't good for him either. All these years later I have a slight deficiency in my breathing capacity, is it from not having a stack on my fire? I don't know but with what I know now I think I would have done more to adequately ventilate my shop from both my forge fire and my arc welder. Who knows what trouble we'll have in our last days.

Good point, all you guys had good points, thanks. I think I may have just figgured out a use for that old furnace blower in my garage... :)

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I had a friend in the MOB that found out that coal smoke was a major trigger for his Asthma, he was fine with a gas forge though.

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I never used tobacco products but when I think of all the other stuff I have inhaled over the years it kind of scares me. I had a fairly heavy exposure to asbestos in the Navy. I grew up in the West and in New Mexico the Land of Enchantment is in the air a good part of time, the same in Arizona and only God knows what is in that dirt. I have had Valley Fever but got over that on my own, no pills, but it does do things to your lungs. Did lots of grinding without a mask, always thought they were a bother. Spent a number of years doing lost wax bronze casting and the investment was a very fine powder that had fiberglass in it. And of course the bronzes had to be cleaned so I sandblasted the investment off without a mask, can anyone say silicosis? Then there is all that dust from woodworking, what dust mask? And yard work, what dust mask? Smoke from the forge may be the least of my worries after having worked in an office where smoking was permitted and the air was blue with cigarette, pipe and cigar smoke all the time, it lay in bands in the air. If we had the knowledge we have now when we were young we might be in better health when we are older but then again maybe not, we're men.

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When I worked as an interpretive smith at the Ft Vancouver National Historic site they had concerns that the suspended coal smoke in the shop was having a negative impact (4 coal forges with in-flue exhaust fans) so they had a testing outfit come in and we all wore air monitors for a few days - When the results came in we were way below the minimums across the spectrum of "tested-for" gasses and particulates - The testing company's biggest concern were the 4 slack tubs - a perfect breeding environment for Legionaire's disease ohmy.gif

The only noticeable effect I've ever had from coal smoke is the ever present case o' black-booger and a voice that ends up like Barry White's after a few days of coal forging!

All that being said - ventilate - ventilate - ventilate! It's a pretty easy and straight up solution!

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In my opinion co2 is a more inportant worry.. and gas forges are greater concentrateors of that ... ive been useing coal forges for over 25 years and rarely had any thing more than a occasional raspy voice .. at a demo tho with a natural gas forge we had a inversion layer come thru and the co2 concentrations got so high i felt dizzy and had to quit forgeing for a wile... we had a hood that the forge sat under (it originally was for a coal forge) and i wasnt the only one to notice the problem... so watch the co2 lvls and i would install a hood.. in fact i used to demo in a tent with out a hood . now i use a hood with 8 ft of pipe to vent the smoke up and out (it also keeps the tables cleaner so more sales!)i reccomend this as it makes things a lot nicer! good luck!

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CO2, carbon dioxide, is easy as the body sheds it with no problem, step into fresh air and take a couple of deep breaths and you're good.

CO, carbon Monoxide, is a killer as it binds to the blood and takes specialized treatment to get rid of it in any useful ammount of time. Gas forges are bad about this especially if you are running them reducing for blademaking and especially in winter when folks tend to close up the shop and so re-run the exhaust back through the burner---pretty much a recipe for CO production.

Note that coal forges produce these gasses too *but* you *know* you are breathing xxxx and tend to take precautions where the gas forge is a "silent" killer.

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Exactly right Thomas, Thanks for clarifying. And just to add to what you said, CO (carbon monoxide) is a product of incomplete combustion. Any smoldering fire, or any case where a flame impinges on metal (say a blade or billet or in my case a furnace heat exchanger wall) or where there is insufficient oxygen (or even too much) mixed with the fuel to complete the oxidation (combustion) process from C to CO to CO2, will produce CO. An O2 depleted environment like a closed up garage, can compound the CO production as less and less O2 is available in the same amount of air to completely combust the same amount of fuel.

Just an FYI for our gas forge folks, CO contains 2/3 the BTU's of the original fuel, so it's to our advantage to tune the burners to a minimum CO production, for fuel saving reasons as well as safety. I have seen nat gas burners go from producing 100ppm CO to producing 1000's ppm CO with just a tweak of the air flow adjustment (done it myself :o )


.
Table I. Effects of Carbon Monoxide Exposure and CO Exposure Limits
PPM CO Exposure Effects of Exposure
to Carbon Monoxide
at this level Source/comment
0 ppm No effects, this is the normal level in a properly-operating heating appliance No carbon monoxide should be detected in residential properties. Possible brief technical exceptions occur.
9 ppm Maximum allowable short term exposure ASHRAE
10 - 24 ppm Investigation needed to find source; Health effects on humans uncertain.
25 ppm Maximum allowable TWA exposure limit OSHA. Used in personal CO alarms.
35 ppm Maximum allowable workplace exposure limit for an 8-hour work shift NIOSH (40 hour work week)
50 ppm Maximum allowable workplace exposure limit for an 8-hour work shift OSHA (40 hour work week)
125 ppm Workplace alarm must sound OSHA
200 ppm Evacuate the area immediately. Exposure at 200 ppm of CO causes dizziness, nausea, fatigue.
400 ppm Evacuate the area. 3 hour exposure may be fatal.
800 ppm Evacuate the area. 2-3 hour exposure causes convulsions, loss of consciousness, death.
1600 ppm Evacuate the area.
6400 ppm Evacuate the area. 30 minutes of exposure causes convulsions, loss of consciousness, death
12,800 ppm Evacuate the area. 1-3 minutes of exposure causes convulsions, loss of consciousness, death

http://www.inspectapedia.com/hazmat/CarbonMonxide.htm

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The following Hazardous Air Pollutant (HAP) Trace Elements have been reported in WV coal.
* Arsenic (As)
* Beryllium (Be)
* Cadmium (Cd)
* Cobalt (Co)
* Chromium (Cr)
* Mercury (Hg)
* Manganese (Mn)
* Nickel (Ni)
* Lead (Pb)
* Antimony (Sb)
* Selenium (Se)
* Chlorine (Cl)
* Fluorine (F)
* Uranium (U)
* Thorium (Th)
* Ash Distribution
* Total Sulfur Distribution
* Pyritic Sulfur Distribution

Why it's the new blacksmith's multi-vitamin.....
Ventilation is key when doing anything shop related.

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"It isn't pollution that is hurting the environment, it's the impurities in our air and water that are doing it."- Dan Quayle, former U.S. Vice-President

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I smoke too much. and if you live and work in a major city, you have the same chance of ending up as if you smoked 2-3 packs a day.
Forge, while mine is out side, i do agree that an adequate flu or vent system will pro-long your lungs usable life, even on an outside forge.

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I've never done any research on it but according to Ron Reil, His website,
the third paragraph down, breathing coal smoke can cause nerve damage.

Bottom line is, unless it's pure unpolluted/uncontaminated air, it isn't gonna be good for you and just about anything in high enough quanity or long enough exposure is likely gonna give you some kind of trouble.
I knew a man who smoked and drank excessivly his whole life and right up to the day he died, at 87 years old and he went peacefully in his sleep and was about as healthy as an 87 year old man would be, but then you hear about a guy in his thirty's who dies of a massive heart attack or lung cancer....it's just hard core evidence that every one's body is different....I guess.
There was a woman lived not too far from me, I knew her some, enough to say hello when I saw her and she was a total health freak her whole life, eating healthy, exercising and was a Chiropractor, a few years ago she died in her early to mid forty's of cancer, she was diagnost and six months later was dead....makes no sense.

welder19

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You gotta play the odds; sure some folk beat the odds; but most don't!

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Some of us learn to late to be safe about our health and some of us never learn. One of my grand fathers lived to be 87, had a double hernia, three ruptured disks in his lower back from farming and ate fried pork, bacon, eggs, flour and fat gravy, fried potatoes, bread and no vegetables, beverage of choice was coffee and thought strong drink evil but chewed tobacco, died of a strangulated bowel. My other grand father died of a heart attack at age 76, was a double amputee from hardening of the arteries, ate fried, salted hog jowl along with eggs for breakfast most of his life. Loved fried pork, chicken and beef, ate seasonal vegetables and chewed tobacco, he had his first heart attack at age 57. My father and his two brothers all died before the age of 64 and their wives all feed them better, made them quite smoking, made sure they got exercise and went to the doctor. With all of the variables in longevity why would you, with the things we know now about health, deliberately go out and work in a smoke filled shop? :blink:

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One of my grandpa's died at 93, the other at 87. Both were farmers during the war, both bootlegged liquor same time as Capone, both had and ran hunting lodges. Both ate farm food--grease, butter, whole milk and cream from their own cows, pork, eggs, and wild game. The 87 yr old spent his last years working, at a school district, smoked his whole adult life, and enjoyed whiskey, though I never seen him tipsey. He never had high colesterol.

The 93 yr old didn't smoke or drink much that I know and ate the same things. One of his favorite foods was pork blood sausage (yes, made from a bowl of blood collected when they slaughtered a pig.) He had teburclurosis twice, and lived through it. three years after he died they started trying to convince us that eggs were unhealthy---right, grandpa might of lived longer I 'spose.

Now days, people dying off much younger were raised on food flooded with steroids, synthetic look alike foods, and grown in worn out ground that must be chemically treated to grow stuff that looks like food, so it can be picked way before it's ripe, and marketed.

Our bodies have been designed to cleanse themselves, otherwise our lungs would look like a long neglected furnace air filter. Grandpas would have looked worse, sooner.

I just heard today that health researchers are finally figuring out that an hour of excersize a day keeps kids from getting fat.

Conclusion? health scientists are morons. :blink: I never take the word of a "scientist" at face value, unless experience supports it. <_< I was asking the experienced, for their experiences. :)

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I always try to be as safe as I can. Wear a respirator when grinding. Have plenty of ventilation. I recently have been wearing a respirator when I am welding. I think taking the necessary steps to be safe lower your chances for having future health problems.

My grandmother lived a very healthy life. Never smoked, I never remember her drinking, ate healthy, and exercised. She died of cancer at age 75. Her mother lived to be in her early 90’s and smoked her whole life. Actually she quite smoking 2 years before she died.

I know of a guy who must be almost 80 now and he has smoked and drank his whole life. He also did auto body work his entire career. He never wore a respirator for anything, painting, or sanding bondo. His son told me that he would finish painting a car and come out of the paint booth blow his nose and it would always be the color of the car that he painted. In my opinion he is extremely lucky, but it just goes to show you that you never know how things are going to work out.

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I think I would be with the other commenters who bring up the dangers of carbon monoxide. The original posters complaints certainly sound like CO.

The chimney on my coal forge is too short and draws poorly. It's in an old blacksmith shop and and the fellow I got the shop from had been working in there for sixty years, I think the chimney may only have been short for the last 30 (tornado in 1973). Fred started getting tired easily and short of breath, so his son, the radiologist, snuck him in for some chest x-rays. They were expecting to find his lungs full of coal ash and grinder dust, instead they found clogged arteries. His lungs were fine, but he had a quadruple by-pass by the end of the week.

Anecdotal, but interesting. Note to self, fix chimney.

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Hi i am considering using coal for my forge and i was wondering what you guys have to say about the saftey aspect. I do have asthma but it is completely outside and i have a chimney. In addition, i live in a suburban neighborhood and i was wondering how much smoke my neighbors will have to deal with. I would love to hear your toughts.

 

Thanks

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Depends on *your* forge, *your* coal and *your* skills working a coal fire. 

 

I have a smithing friend with asthma and *any* coal smoke causes him problems.  Propane is a lot more to his liking.  I can't address *your* sensitivity to it though.

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Working outdoors, the forge should be enclosed all around except where the work goes in and out. Otherwise, the wind will blow the smoke every which way, including into your face. Have a flue twice as tall as you are.

 

No telling about your neighbors complaining.

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