Lead poisoning from raw brass?

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Doug Elliott
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Lead poisoning from raw brass?

Post by Doug Elliott »

A few years ago there was some discussion about the lead in brass being a potential source of lead poisoning.

360 brass, also called free machining brass, has 3% lead in it. That's what is typically used for mouthpieces and other machined parts. There has recently been a push to use "lead-free" brass (which still has lead in it, but less) due to regulations in California. It's primarily used for plumbing parts, where the brass is in constant contact with drinking water.

I have been handling and machining 360 brass for the past 40 years that I've been making mouthpieces. Most of my work is with bare hands, including sanding and buffing.

So I decided to get a blood test for lead, along with other routine blood tests a few days ago, just to see what my level might be and see what the risk actually is.

According to the lab, normal is considered to be 0 - 3.4 µg/dL.
Adult blood lead level of 5 µg/dL or above is considered elevated, but from sources I read apparently up to 10 µg/dL is still "normal." Treatment is suggested if it's over 40.

Mine is 1.7 µg/dL.
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Re: Lead poisoning from raw brass?

Post by LIBrassCo »

Doug Elliott wrote: Mon Nov 21, 2022 11:09 am A few years ago there was some discussion about the lead in brass being a potential source of lead poisoning.

360 brass, also called free machining brass, has 3% lead in it. That's what is typically used for mouthpieces and other machined parts. There has recently been a push to use "lead-free" brass (which still has lead in it, but less) due to regulations in California. It's primarily used for plumbing parts, where the brass is in constant contact with drinking water.

I have been handling and machining 360 brass for the past 40 years that I've been making mouthpieces. Most of my work is with bare hands, including sanding and buffing.

So I decided to get a blood test for lead, along with other routine blood tests a few days ago, just to see what my level might be and see what the risk actually is.

According to the lab, normal is considered to be 0 - 3.4 µg/dL.
Adult blood lead level of 5 µg/dL or above is considered elevated, but from sources I read apparently up to 10 µg/dL is still "normal." Treatment is suggested if it's over 40.

Mine is 1.7 µg/dL.
You masked sanding and buffing?
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Re: Lead poisoning from raw brass?

Post by Posaunus »

California "regulations" (lead content, Proposition 65 cancer warnings, ...) are mostly nonsensical and scientifically terribly flawed.

You are NOT putting yourself at risk of lead poisoning by drinking water that has passed through brass plumbing fittings or playing a brass mouthpiece.

And you are VERY unlikely to contract cancer from ignoring most Proposition 65 cancer warnings (since they are ubiquitous, and are slapped on almost everything).

It's a shame, since there are some things we should be aware of and avoid, but we are now conditioned to think that these warnings are all so much "wolf-crying."
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Re: Lead poisoning from raw brass?

Post by Doug Elliott »

I don't usually wear a mask, I have a great dust collector.
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Re: Lead poisoning from raw brass?

Post by OneTon »

I am glad Doug has low lead levels. I am not enthusiastic about allowing any state to dictate environmental standards. Such practices easily become flawed processes and are much more vulnerable to politicalization. What is adequate in California could be inadequate in a mid western or eastern state. I am not sure how we got on the path to broad acceptance of California standards.
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Re: Lead poisoning from raw brass?

Post by tbonesullivan »

I know Bach has been touting their mouthpieces as being "lead free", so I guess they have switched to a different variety of Brass? Or have they found some wording in the requirements for "lead free" that enables them to not really change anything, but claim "lead free"?

I mean, lead is definitely hazardous to health, but it needs to actually get into your body / bloodstream for it to actually do anything. I remember when the RoHS stuff came out for electronics, and most of the reasoning is more about lead getting into drinking water due to improper disposal of lead products. I couldn't find much at all at people using lead solder at work getting lead poisoning from fumes. If it was anything it was lead dust.
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Re: Lead poisoning from raw brass?

Post by robcat2075 »

The primary danger from lead is to inhale or ingest it. Those are proven hazards. To merely contact a metal alloyed with it is likely among the lesser worries.

From what I can glean, the prevailing concerns about skin contact with lead is that the dust from the contact point may be later... inhaled or ingested.

For all the hand-wringing over California standards it remains a consistent leader in year-over-year economic growth over other US states. They're doing something right.

Governments impose regulations when it becomes obvious that trusting corporations to look out for the public good on the honor system has failed and that market forces won't make them fix anything.

California regs get observed nationwide because it is simply easier to manufacture to the more restrictive standard than to 50 different standards. Such a pity... we all have to live with cars that get better gas mileage and emit less pollution than our own states would require. But the California standards tend to be well-considered ones.

However, the California Prop 65 was not a desire of career regulators, it was passed as a ballot initiative, put on the ballot by political strategists for the purpose of attracting liberal voters to turn out for a governor's race, much like the anti-gay marriage Prop a few years ago was devised to attract conservative voters. The Proposition process in CA certainly needs rethinking. Much public time and anguish is devoted to needlessly litigating issues that would be better left to their elected representatives.
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Re: Lead poisoning from raw brass?

Post by TexHipp »

In my opinion, you've provided us all with an extremely valuable data point. Thanks for going to the trouble of getting tested and sharing your results.

One note I might add is that most every mouthpiece is plated with some other kind of metal that is less reactive, such as gold or silver, that further reduces lead exposure.
Last edited by TexHipp on Mon Nov 21, 2022 6:38 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Lead poisoning from raw brass?

Post by OneTon »

robcat2075 wrote: Mon Nov 21, 2022 1:31 pm
“For all the hand-wringing over California standards it remains a consistent leader in year-over-year economic growth over other US states. They're doing something right.”

Most any state or country that embraces sustainable energy and clean air probably gets a synergistic boon in their economy. Germany is a prime example. Who is to say another state might benefit even more if they could tailor environmental standards to their unique situation . . . And get someone else to subsidize their campaign?

“California regs get observed nationwide because it is simply easier to manufacture to the more restrictive standard than to 50 different standards. Such a pity... we all have to live with cars that get better gas mileage and emit less pollution than our own states would require. But the California standards tend to be well-considered ones.”

Who knows if faster and more robust solutions could have been achieved if the problems had been attacked on a national level? I remember when the horizon turned pink in the late 1970s and the weather briefing went from 20 miles and/or unlimited, to “10 miles visibility” and most often “haze.” The maximum visibility now is never over 10 miles and often includes haze. LA still stinks of smog. As late as the middle 1990’s my 1967 6 cylinder albeit gas hog truck engine outperformed the current state of the art cars when tested yearly for emissions in Washington State. My only hope is that no Californian breaks his or her arm patting themselves on the back. If only we really did have clean air.

“However, the California Prop 65 was not a desire of career regulators, it was passed as a ballot initiative, put on the ballot by political strategists for the purpose of attracting liberal voters to turn out for a governor's race, much like the anti-gay marriage Prop a few years ago was devised to attract conservative voters. The Proposition process in CA certainly needs rethinking. Much public time and anguish is devoted to needlessly litigating issues that would be better left to their elected representatives.”
That makes my point better than I do. All of the people in 49 other states are supposed to abide by self serving elitist California representatives elected by . . . Californians. That’s the next best thing to taxation without representation and constitutes the antithesis of democracy. Native Californians love this perversion of democracy so much that one cannot swing a dead cat without hitting an emigrated Californian.

Why not let laws and regulations spanning the 50 states be enacted in the due process of the people’s elected representatives, or popular vote, at the federal level? Then we might have clean air and environmental standards, achieved by, based on, and verified by science.
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Re: Lead poisoning from raw brass?

Post by Matt K »

It’s not legislation per se. It’s about what markets you want to have available to you. Likely one of the reasons Yamaha uses lead free solder, being based in Japan. Or for a similar reason why carbonated beverage makers offer sugar instead of corn syrup, they had to offer it somewhere so they also make it available where they aren’t require me to.

Whether or not something is a detriment to you, if a group of people require X, manufacturers will provide X and many times it’s cheaper to only offer that m, especially if the market is large
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Re: Lead poisoning from raw brass?

Post by LeTromboniste »

That's something I've been wondering about too, as I play almost exclusively on raw brass mouthpieces, so my face is in contact with it daily. Next time I get blood tests, I should get lead checked too, if only to have a reference point for future tests way down the road.

"lead-free" indeed doesn't mean there's no lead, but that the brass will not leach lead into water through the wetted surface more than a negligible amount (not sure what the limit is), and the wetted surface itself must not contain more that 0.25% of lead. How much relevance that has for mouthpieces is of course very much an open question.
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Doug Elliott
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Re: Lead poisoning from raw brass?

Post by Doug Elliott »

I don't play on raw brass (I have at times, and I know people who do all the time), but I probably have several thousand times more raw brass exposure than any normal person, and yet my lead level is quite low. That was my reason for posting. It's a non-issue.

I had considered switching to lead-free, but discovered it's not readily available in the sizes I use. I guess a really big company can afford to do a big enough special order.
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Re: Lead poisoning from raw brass?

Post by GabrielRice »

BUT I THOUGHT ALL THE LEAD IN THE VINTAGE STUFF WAS WHAT MADE IT SOUND MAGICAL

LOL
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Re: Lead poisoning from raw brass?

Post by Posaunus »

GabrielRice wrote: Mon Nov 21, 2022 5:56 pm BUT I THOUGHT ALL THE LEAD IN THE VINTAGE STUFF WAS WHAT MADE IT SOUND MAGICAL

LOL
You mean it wasn't really the fairy dust? :idk:
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Re: Lead poisoning from raw brass?

Post by Matt K »

GabrielRice wrote: Mon Nov 21, 2022 5:56 pm BUT I THOUGHT ALL THE LEAD IN THE VINTAGE STUFF WAS WHAT MADE IT SOUND MAGICAL

LOL
Are you suggesting that the custom made lead mouthpiece I had made doesn't make me sound magical? :lol:

Incidentally, I do kinda wish steel and titanium were more popular, before prices had gone through the roof in particular. I was able a titanium one on the used market a while ago, but it's a bass piece, and I'm much more of a tenor player so it's hard for me to really evaluate it. The titanium one in particular is remarkably light.
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Re: Lead poisoning from raw brass?

Post by timothy42b »

LeTromboniste wrote: Mon Nov 21, 2022 3:56 pm That's something I've been wondering about too, as I play almost exclusively on raw brass mouthpieces, so my face is in contact with it daily. Next time I get blood tests, I should get lead checked too, if only to have a reference point for future tests way down the road.
Still, there's a huge difference between having skin contact with solid metal, and doing machining operations that create dust and fine particles.

Doug makes mouthpieces; if he doesn't have high levels I can't imagine those of us who merely play them are at risk.

Those of us of a certain age probably got our lead load from driving cars with leaded gasoline.

Before I retired one of my responsibilities was maintenance on an indoor firing range. You would not believe how hard it is to keep lead dust confined to an area.
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Re: Lead poisoning from raw brass?

Post by BGuttman »

timothy42b wrote: Tue Nov 22, 2022 11:04 am ...

Those of us of a certain age probably got our lead load from driving cars with leaded gasoline.

...
Or just being in a city with a lot of cars driving leaded gasoline.
Or living in a house with lead water pipes.
Or living in a house with lead wall paint.

I have to say, abstracting the lead from an alloy mouthpiece is quite difficult and I would doubt any but the most acidic among us would show a positive lead level after extended contact with a raw brass mouthpiece. You are more in danger of getting lead from electrical solder (or plumbing solder for that matter).
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Re: Lead poisoning from raw brass?

Post by Dennis »

OneTon wrote: Mon Nov 21, 2022 2:17 pm
robcat2075 wrote: Mon Nov 21, 2022 1:31 pm
“California regs get observed nationwide because it is simply easier to manufacture to the more restrictive standard than to 50 different standards. Such a pity... we all have to live with cars that get better gas mileage and emit less pollution than our own states would require. But the California standards tend to be well-considered ones.”
That makes my point better than I do. All of the people in 49 other states are supposed to abide by self serving elitist California representatives elected by . . . Californians. That’s the next best thing to taxation without representation and constitutes the antithesis of democracy. Native Californians love this perversion of democracy so much that one cannot swing a dead cat without hitting an emigrated Californian.

Why not let laws and regulations spanning the 50 states be enacted in the due process of the people’s elected representatives, or popular vote, at the federal level? Then we might have clean air and environmental standards, achieved by, based on, and verified by science.
No, it appears to me that you missed the point entirely, OneTon.

Manufacturers choose to follow California standards. In some cases (like the California Air Resources Board, CARB), other local governmental entities have chosen to adopt CARB standards. By the way, CARB standards are based on science and engineering.

You can like it or not, but California is the only state in the union that could actually make it as an independent nation. Its GDP is nearly $3.5 T. The United States' GDP is $25 T. The population of California is more than 1/10 of the US population, and its economy is more than 1/8 of the US economy.

Manufacturers will not voluntarily ignore the California market, and because of economies of scale, they will choose to make goods sold nationwide conform to California requirements if possible. It isn't California (generally) deciding to impose its standards on the nation: it's manufacturers deciding that they can't ignore the California market and choosing to make their product California compliant.
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Re: Lead poisoning from raw brass?

Post by WGWTR180 »

Yeh OneTon is making 1 ton of his own political agenda here. Isn't there a politics section here on The Chat or was it removed?
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Re: Lead poisoning from raw brass?

Post by WGWTR180 »

GabrielRice wrote: Mon Nov 21, 2022 5:56 pm BUT I THOUGHT ALL THE LEAD IN THE VINTAGE STUFF WAS WHAT MADE IT SOUND MAGICAL

LOL
Here we go again...... :idk:
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Re: Lead poisoning from raw brass?

Post by Digidog »

You have to be aware that there is lead and there is lead.

The toxicity of lead depends strongly on what form it is in. Ionized lead in solutions, is very dangerous; lead in organic molecules is extremely toxic, while metallic lead is dangerous if inhaled or ingested.

So I guess that the metallic particles emanating from the production of mouthpieces don't dust around long enough to be inhaled or swallowed.
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Re: Lead poisoning from raw brass?

Post by Posaunus »

I guess that when I was asked to play "lead trombone" they weren't referring to the metal? :roll:
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Re: Lead poisoning from raw brass?

Post by tbonesullivan »

Digidog wrote: Thu Nov 24, 2022 1:12 pm You have to be aware that there is lead and there is lead.

The toxicity of lead depends strongly on what form it is in. Ionized lead in solutions, is very dangerous; lead in organic molecules is extremely toxic, while metallic lead is dangerous if inhaled or ingested.

So I guess that the metallic particles emanating from the production of mouthpieces don't dust around long enough to be inhaled or swallowed.
Yeah, I remember this from discussions of Flint Michigan. The problem wasn't the lead pipes nearly as much as it was the switch to poorly treated corrosive water, which caused a lot of Lead ions and chloride to enter the system. With "normal" water, lead pipes get a mineral coating on the inside that protects them, but the new water went through that and started attacking the lead.

Lead paint is far more hazardous than a chunk of lead because it contains things like lead(II) chromate (PbCrO4, "chrome yellow"), lead(II,IV) oxide, (Pb3O4, "red lead"), and lead(II) carbonate (PbCO3, "white lead").
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Re: Lead poisoning from raw brass?

Post by timothy42b »

Digidog wrote: Thu Nov 24, 2022 1:12 pm
So I guess that the metallic particles emanating from the production of mouthpieces don't dust around long enough to be inhaled or swallowed.
I'm not sure of Doug's exact process but most machining I've seen uses cutting oil or similar liquids to lubricate the tool/material interface, so I would think that would catch the finer particles.

Grinding or polishing might be different.
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Re: Lead poisoning from raw brass?

Post by BGuttman »

I would expect most of the dust to come from sawing or sanding. Grinding and polishing are done in a liquid medium that would trap a lot of the removed dust.

Still, I've never seen a machine shop that didn't have a lot of metal flakes and dust around. Doug probably breathes in more brass dust in a day than most of us will see in a lifetime.

Still, most of that brass dust is copper and zinc with only a very small part being lead. And copper has its own toxicology. Plus there is the effect of particulates causing lung cancer (that was the real danger from cigarettes -- smoke particles that affect the lungs; the nicotine creates an addiction that causes you to inhale more).
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Re: Lead poisoning from raw brass?

Post by JohnL »

BGuttman wrote: Fri Nov 25, 2022 7:44 am Still, I've never seen a machine shop that didn't have a lot of metal flakes and dust around.
I've seen some that were pretty clean - and as Doug mentioned:
Doug Elliott wrote: Mon Nov 21, 2022 11:51 amI have a great dust collector.
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