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Contents of coal/ effect on health

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Hello there, 

I have a problem which i am investigating the cause for some months now.  I have run multiple blood tests and today another new test which measures the chemicals and or heavy metals inside ones system to show what vitamins and minerals are off the normal charts. The test has shown some worrying results in the heavy metals department and i am now considering the possibility of it being work related. I have been practicing blacksmithing for the last three years as a main profession but my workshop is still located at the back of the house in the garage (square space of 25 squared meters) which i know there is no proper ventilation even if i have the two windows open. I have noticed lately that after 2-3 hours of work my throat becomes very dry and then leads to pain and difficulty breathing. I try to keep the shop as clean as possible but dust gathers everywhere from the grinding or the cutting of steel with power tools. And on top the problem becomes even worse from the fumes of the coal forge. Now i must clarify that this is my personal issues due to the unbalance of my organism. I do not want in any case to discourage anyone from working in this amazing craft because most people have worked with coal for a very long time and have never faced such problems. This thread is just to help me and anyone else who faces similar issues to find proper solutions to these matters. As a result i am now wondering if some of the elements found in the coal or in steel itself can be related with the toxicology of my health system and what can i do to minimize the intake of this elements from my work space. I will soon be moving to a bigger workshop which i will give the highest priority on these matters of health and safety and then everything else. The Heavy Metal Test Report  has shown high indications of these metals in my system, they are just bellow the red marker: which includes Aluminioum, Silver, Arsenic, Barium, Beryllium, Bismuth, Cadmium (highest) Mercury, and Lead. The only normal ones i have are 5/14 which are Antimony, nickel, platinum, thallium, Thorium. I am aware that there are many sources for these metals eg: Lead is found in high levels in users of batteries eg constant contact with cell phone. Can you advice on the subject and let me know of your experience with this sector of health and what i can do to minimize the impact on my health? Another last question is which of these ingredients is found in the 'common' coal used by blacksmiths and if there is another brand that is cleaner or better on these aspects.. Because soon i will be ordering another ton of coal from abroad and i would like to get the cleaner one instead of the one i have already. I am currently thinking on getting the smithy breeze which i think is better than coal. Do you know of any other brands and what to look for? thanks to everyone who has read this post for the patience and for any help on the subject. find attached some images of my workshop, the forge, and the coal used. the last image is the cleanest the forge has ever looked and it is there to get a feel of the size of the workshop. 





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Nice workshop!  I'm currently limited to working outside and would be thrilled with your small space.

Coal is mined all over the world and has different composition depending upon its source.  I found an analysis of Illinois Coal here:


This analysis shows there are traces of many metals in THAT coal.  Other coals may have different levels of each of these metals and I can't say what's in YOUR coal.  So yes, it's possible that is the source of your excess metal levels.  If you are concerned, I'd suggest using a good fitting respirator with an industrial quality particulate filter.  Another alternative would be to switch to a propane forge with plenty of ventilation to prevent carbon monoxide buildup. 

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This may get a little long so stay with me. Look at all the references as they supply additional information.


Trace Elements

Coal is made up primarily of "organic" elements (carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen) and "inorganic" elements (primarily silicon, aluminum, iron, calcium, magnesium, titanium, sodium, potassium, and sulfur). Organic elements comprise the combustible body of the coal, whereas the inorganic elements are present in coal in minerals that largely form the ash when the coal is burned. Inorganic elements (e.g. silicon and aluminum) are present in most West Virginia coals in the range of several percent or more in ash forming minerals, but other "inorganic" elements, such as sulfur, present in lesser amounts, may detrimentally impact the use of West Virginia coals.

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.

Highly toxic elements (e.g. arsenic, mercury, lead, and selenium) are present in West Virginia coals, though generally in very low concentrations. How hazardous elements present in very low amounts adversely impact the environment is a matter of scale. For example, a coal fired power plant with no pollution controls in place theoretically would produce 10 tons of lead for each million tons of coal burned containing 10 ppm lead. However, modern pollution control measures provide controls against the release of large amounts of hazardous trace elements to the environment.

A table of statistical correlations of trace elements with ash yield, in decreasing order of significance, includes Chromium (Cr), Thorium (Th), Scandium (Sc), Cesium (Cs), Rubidium (Rb), Lithium (Li), Vanadium (V), Hafnium (Hf), Cerium (Ce), Lanthanum (La), Zirconium (Zr), Tantalum (Ta), Niobium (Nb), Dysprosium (Dy), Holmium (Ho), Lead (Pb), Samarium (Sm), Europium (Eu), Gallium (Ga) and Tellurium (Te). These elements likely occur within mineral matter in coal. Most of these elements probably occur in silicate minerals, especially clay minerals, which make up 60-70% of the mineral matter in coals.


Trace Elements in West Virginia Coals (your coal may be different)

Antimony (Sb) Erbium (Er) Manganese (Mn) Tantalum (Ta) Arsenic (As) Europium (Eu) Mercury (Hg) Tellurium (Te) Barium (Ba) Fluorine (F) Molybdenum (Mo) Terbium (Tb) Beryllium (Be) Gadolinium (Gd) Neodymium (Nd) Thallium (Tl) Bismuth (Bi) Gallium (Ga) Nickel (Ni) Thorium (Th) Boron (B) Germanium (Ge) Niobium (Nb) Thulium ™ Bromine (Br) Gold (Au) Praseodymium (Pr) Tin (Sn) Cadmium (Cd) Hafnium (Hf) Rhenium (Re) Tungsten (W) Cerium (Ce) Holmium (Ho) Rubidium (Rb) Uranium (U) Cesium (Cs) Indium (In) Samarium (Sm) Vanadium (V) Chlorine (Cl) Iridium (Ir) Scandium (Sc) Ytterbium (Yb) Chromium (Cr) Lanthanum (La) Selenium (Se) Yttrium (Y) Cobalt (Co) Lead (Pb) Silver (Ag) Zinc (Zn) Copper (Cu) Lithium (Li) Strontium (Sr) Zirconium (Zr)

Repeated material: 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 best way to reduce exposure to the trace elements is to reduce the smoke and or dust. This includes a chimney, room air filtration, dust elimination, and good housekeeping.

The chimney should works well, that is draft well or suck the smoke out of the work area. 8 inch diameter is considered the minimum, with 10 inch and 12 inch being better. Area of a 8 inch diameter circle is A = 50.26 square inches, a 10 inch diameter circle is A = 78.53 square inches and a 12 inch diameter circle is A = 113.09 square inches. The chimney does not have to be round, as square, rectangular, and other shapes will work. 

It is suggested that the top of the chimney be 3-4 feet taller than the peak of the roof and 10 feet away from and 3-4 feet taller than any near structure. Also consider anything that will interfere with air flow or create eddy currents in the air such as other buildings, trees, etc. The idea is to move air so the top of the chimney is important. You may or may not want a cap on the top of the chimney to keep rain etc out of the chimney. A round pyramid or Chinaaman's cap, or other cap sill work only if the area between the top of the chimney and the bottom of the cap is sufficient to allow the full volume of smoke to escape. If I recall correctly this height is 1-1/2 to 2 times the diameter of the chimney. There are what is referred to as high velocity chimney caps which is a pipe larger than the chimney and around the last feet of the original chimney with a space between the two. Rain is suppose to hit the outside pipe and then not get into the original chimney.

You will need to start a draft in any chimney by first burning a couple of sheets of newspaper to warm or preheat the chimney and induce the original draft, or get things going. You may wish to do this a second time just before lighting the fire in the forge. Good fire maintenance will eliminate a lot of the smoke. Start by poking a hole in the top of the fire to create a volcano of sorts and allow the smoke and fire to exit through the hole and burn the smoke, creating heat and more draft.


Room air filtration, dust elimination

This is as simple as putting an air filter over the intake side of a box or window fan. It will circulate the room air filtering out particles, dust, etc. You do not need a lot of air as it will run continuously.


Good housekeeping

Try not to create dust, debris, etc. That way it will not get spread out and settle all over everything in the shop. Once in the shop any air movement will cause it to become airborne again. A good broom or shop vac will collect a lot of the dust and debris. This may need to be followed by a wet mop. If it worth the effort to keep the shop environment aseptic, that is your call.

Just taking the dust and debris generating processes outside will eliminate a lot of problems. Just remember that outside the door puts all the dust and debris at the entrance of the door to be tracked into the shop. Move it to the side or away from the building and use a fan to blow the dust and debris away. (usually into the neighbor's yard LOL)


A properly fitting respirator with an industrial quality particulate filter may be a consideration. Be aware that this restricts air flow into the lungs and may cause some issues by wearing the  respirator.


All this is related to smoke and the inside of the shop.

The geology of Cyprus is part of the regional geology of Europe. Cyprus lies on the southern border of the Eurasian Plate and on the southern margin of the Anatolian Plate. The southern margin of the Anatolian Plate is in collision with the African Plate, which has created the uplift of the Cyprus arc and Cyprus itself. Cyprus is commonly divided into four bedrock units, Keryneia Terrane, Troodos Ophiolite, and  Mamonia Terrane. (reference: wikipedia) All this plate movement may have left the ground surface covered with trace elements.

Another possibility is fall out from any volcano(s) in the area, or fall out carried by the atmosphere and winds from distant volcano(s).

Any garage or auto repair shop most likely will test positive for lead, due to the wheel weights used to balance tires. Road dust can test positive for asbestos that is sometimes used in brake pads and shoes. Then there is the sea breeze carrying the trace elements present in the ocean water. And do not forget rain washing the dust and debris out of the atmosphere. Choose your battles, go after the largest sources and eliminate or control those sources first.  

Other fuels to consider are induction heating, coke, charcoal and propane.

Ventilation is not as simple as you might expect. You MUST have make up or replacement air for any air that goes out the chimney. If you open an window and remove ALL the air in the room, you have not removed the contaminated air, you have diluted the contaminated air by mixing it with clean outside air. You now have a 50/50 mix of clean and contaminated air in the room. For instance, for every volume of air removed you brought in the same volume of clean air and mixed it with the room air. We will let the math majors crunch the numbers as to how much air you need to move to get acceptable number of clean air.


May I suggest reading the following references.



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Nice little shop that you have there. If I may comment as follows, 1) you need cross ventilation so that air moves through the space. 2) your air intake must be at the furthest point from your fire.

While Glenn has given you good advice re the fan etc. Remember that as this setup is at your home and depending on the topography of your setup you don't want to move the pollution issues to your home. Have you considered changing to '"good clean charcoal" ?

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Crummy news.

I suspect that you have a ventilation problem. Also, perhaps, very dirty type of coal.

Have your physicians discussed chelation therapy? (it's pronounced kee lay shun). Those chemicals scavenge heavy metals from the body. (e.g. E.D.T.A., etc.)

At the very least, ventilation should be drastically improved in your smithy, and your coal source switched out, . A gas forge would probably be worth switching to.

Propane or natural gas do not have heavy metals in them.

Heavy metal poisoning has been a potential hazard from the beginning of smithing.

(has anyone on this site noticed that all the ancient gods are depicted as lame? They include the Roman God Vulcan, The Greek Hephaestus, and the Celt Waylon).

Hope things improve, soon


Cadmium, beryllium, arsenic, lead, and mercury are particularly poisonous.

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One should also consider the materials you work with, as many steels are coated or alloyed with potentially hazardous materials. Be it Crome plating, zink plating, cadmium anodized or alloyed materials such as lead in free machining steels, chromium in stainless (some newer alloyes use high amounts of Crome and no nickel) and such. 


Also to be considerd is welding fumes from electrical type welding operations. 

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Changing from one size coal to another size coal may not be the answer. The preparations plants most often will crush and screen coal to get the size needed for the client. It is the same coal, just a different size.

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Didn't see you mention Manganese that has been correlated with welders getting parkinson's disease and is found in pretty much all modern steels as it helps deal with sulfur from the smelting process with coke as the fuel.

Breeze should have a *lot* of the nasty stuff already burnt off and be cleaner---just remember that just because you cant see the fumes doesn't mean they are not toxic!!!

Finally unless you are eating your cell phone you should NOT be getting any exposure to lead from it's battery pack; perhaps any applied graphics on it; but not the sealed battery pack.

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hello everyone, thank you for the quick replies. give me some time to read fully the post by Glenn and i will get back to you. Now as for the gas forge i have ordered the forgemaster blacksmith recently and its on its way, (after failing to calibrate the two forges i have built out of propane bottles) Hense i will switch to it soon for a period of two months or more to see if there is any improvement in the heavy metals in my system. Ventilation will be better soon as i plan to move in a bigger space as soon as possible out on the country side where the workshop is much bigger. And i will do some research on what i can do with the chimney of the forge.. but anyway i will now read Glenn. and get back to you. 

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I am back again. Glenn i really appreciate your detailed answer, and apologise from beforehand for not answering all the issues that you raised. Since you have described that the substances like arsenic, aluminium, cadmium etc are only found as trace elements in the coal i will not worry so much about them and try to place a better chimney in my next shop according to your recommendations and take care for the air filtration and cleanliness of the smithy. As for wearing a mask all the time while working is even more unbearable due to the heat during our almost 8 month summer time and due to the difficulty breathing. I wear the mask while grinding though which limits the intake of the elements in the steel. As for the change of fuel i will switch to the smithy breeze which i am pretty sure is coke and not coal which will be another matter addressed. I had a recommendation from the doctor to start taking Vitamin C and some other stuff to start the detox process and i will increase my exercise within the week which will help as well. I will keep you posted from any improvements made. Do you all think that coke will be better than the coal i was using.? i have just asked from my supplier in the UK to sent me a specification sheet for the ingredients of the smithy breeze and i will post it here as soon as i have it. Thank you all for the info given and the comments about my workshop. If you wish visit my site www.andreassantis.com or the page in Facebook titled 'santis blacksmith' mainly to see some sculptures i did back in my college days and some tables i am working on now.    

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2 hours ago, santisandreas said:

 ...I had a recommendation from the doctor to start taking Vitamin C and some other stuff to start the detox process and i will increase my exercise within the week which will help as well. ...

Hi Santis, sorry to hear about all the nasties found in your blood particularly considering your young age. 

Age is of course in your favour and listen to all the recommendations given in the above post. All but one I'm afraid, since "detox" is a medical nonsense. There is no such thing and taking one vitamin in isolation only contributes to imbalance. Vitamins if required need to be taken as a multi complex or multivitamin containing all vitamin and minerals required. 

"Detox" diets are usually associated with some fads or cons sold to lose weight. 

Hope you get better soon. Finding the origin of the heavy metals and stopping them from finding their way into your bloodstream is the only way. Your body in time will eliminate what is not needed. I hope you can enjoy blacksmithing for many years to come.  

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Do you do any brazing?  Cadmium is commonly found in silver solders. Also, cadmium platings are commonly found on hardware such as nuts and bolts.  To those that weld or forge them, here's a good reference for it:  http://429mustangcougarinfo.50megs.com/new_page_26.htm  

Be fastidious about washing your hands well before eating.  Another option would be to get a wet belt grinder to help keep the dust suspended.  This is a much more expensive option then a respirator.  Consider that there are specialized respirator filters for fumes as well as for particulates. 

I generally see 4 temperaments when it comes to ignoring workshop safety.

1: I'm untouchable and it won't phase me.

2: I'm too cheap to take the necessary precautions or it will slow me down.

3. I"m gonna die of something someday anyway, (usually goes along with number 1). 

4.  Ignorance

Or any combination thereof. 



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Hello Ede, no i do not any brazing and the 4 temperaments that you mentioned do not apply to me at all, except if you consider that while cutting a piece with an angle grinder for a second and not wearing the respirator is considered ignorance. Mainly i have been wearing the respirator and in the future i will buy a wet saw for cutting steel to minimize the steel dust particles in the workshop but this is a later investment. I have been thinking about the maxi-grinder for a while but i think it is not wet. But since I have high costs at the moment with my new workshop I might consider buying a better grinder later on just like the wet saw. And of course I wash my hands regularly! Thanks for the thoughts though and i will keep close tabs on this for a long time. The Gas forge has arrived so i will be switching to it very soon and see how that goes.   

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Hi Santis, Check out the book "The Jewelers Workshop Safety Report" by Charles Lewton Brain.  Much of the material in there is transferable to welding and blacksmithing disciplines.  

Also, I noticed on your site that you mentioned a 1" hybrid burner, is that the one you had difficulty calibrating? 

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I previously discussed the potentially poisonous effects of ingested heavy metals, in this thread

. A much greater problem is the dust from grinding. The component that are the abrasive particles. They are very fine, and are easily breathed in. The size is small enough for the particles to lodge deeply in our lungs. Some of those particles are silicon carbide and aluminum oxide. (and less likely, chromium oxides i.e. the green rouge). One such occupational disease is, for example, silicosis. (caused by silicon, or silicon carbide particles.) It is fatal and there is no cure. But it comes about after years of particle exposure. And rarely from a single exposure

Many particles are scavenged by our cells and disposed of. But less of the more deeply lodged particles, are moved out

Those particles are of a particular size that gets the white blood cells to start an immune reaction. Part of that response is an inflammatory reaction . Chronic inflammation eventually attacks cells In the lung leading to widespread destruction.

This is the same mechanism that is involved in C.O.P.D.  (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder). In that medical condition the pollutants ingested are cigarette and air pollution particles).

Using a respirator is a good first measure. But it is not the complete step. Grinding particles remain in the air long after the grinding session is over. And the dust can still be breathed in. Also, those particles settle on all the surfaces of the shop. Touching a surface, such as the work bench, or walking along the dust laden floor sends those particles into the air again. This will continue to happen until the dust is removed.

The better measure is to grind with a very efficient dust extraction system, that collects the particles.That system must be capable of filtering very out fine dust particles. Collected dust disposal should be carefully done.

Alternatively the grinding can be done outside with a strong fan blowing the dust far away. This is not practical measure for most of us who resort to grinding metal. 

Regards to all and best wishes to all for a wonderful Christmas, or Chanukah, or Kwanza or other festivities.


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Old automobile air filters consisted of a reverse air flow just above a shallow layer of oil. Air made the 180* bend, particulate matter did not and was captured in the oil. 

The heavier dust and debris can be captured in a container of water as they come off the belt. The lighter dust can be channeled into a filter system. Just be careful of sparks that could cause a fire in the filtering system. 

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  • 5 months later...

seems an old post but gave up useing coal after seeing what looked like spinning shards of glass in coal smoke,only use hardwood charcoal now ,still careful when the wind blows my way,burn my own in a converted 44 gal drum,got to be careful for sure,glen

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  • 6 months later...

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