Steve Garn has been a family friend since the turn of this century. Duane and I met Steve, a.k.a "Brewdude", and his son Chad, during the 8th Smoke Out East. They were always smiling and eagerly helped stranded riders out with no hesitation. We have crossed paths numerous times and value their friendship. If you read The Horse Magazine, American Iron, etc. you’re aware of Steve’s tech articles. Steve and I freelance for The Horse Magazine and understand the importance of cross promotion. Steve was looking for other venues to share his knowledge and I wasn’t going to bypass this great opportunity. It might seem odd that Brewdude’s first ChopCult feature is a blast from the past, but we believe it’s worth revisiting. Gas poisoning is a sneaky bastard that affects many. Here’s Brew’s firsthand account. Please take a moment to read and share. Thanks!
By Steve “Brewdude” Garn
Many of you might have read this before or heard about this, but I wanted to give you an update on this article. The original article was in American Iron, November, 2009 issue and also The Horse, issue 132 (August 2013), had an updated version.
Over 6 years ago I was welding some aluminum that was heavily pitted. The part was very dirty with grease and I usually cleaned parts with carb cleaner. It was a rush job and the local country store, which usually has carb cleaner, was out so I bought some brake cleaner. My regular routine for cleaning was to wipe off as much as I could and then spray on some cleaner and wipe off the remainder of the dirt and grease. After doing this, I would then preheat the area with an acetylene torch to get rid of any of the remaining solvents, thereby eliminating the chance of a flashback fire. To get rid of any fumes, I had the shop doors open and an exhaust fan running.
1. Danger Use ONLY as Directed
This piece was heavily pitted and my preheat routine had gotten rid of all the brake cleaner…I thought! As I was TIG welding, everything was going smoothly until I came to a heavily corroded pitted area. A couple of drops of brake cleaner were still in a deep pit and as I came too close to it, a small puff of white smoke popped up. I almost passed out. I crawled outside and sat in the fresh air, and after a few minutes went into the office. I checked out on the computer all the warnings on the brake cleaner that I used. While doing this, my left side went to shaking for about 10 to 15 minutes. I found out later that it was actually a seizure.
On the can it had this warning: “Vapors may decompose to harmful or fatal corrosive gases such as hydrogen chloride and possibly phosgene.” After reading about hydrogen chloride, I started researching phosgene. The active chemical in this brake cleaner is tetra-chloroethylene. When this chemical is exposed to extreme heat, along with the argon purged (used in TIG & MIG welding) environment, it produces phosgene. Phosgene gas can be fatal with a dose as little as four parts per million: basically a small puff of smoke. Because it is a nerve agent, the symptoms can be delayed from 6 to 48 hours. According to the websites, there is no antidote for phosgene poisoning, and if you do survive, there are many chronic health issues. All in all, I was severely sick for 6 days and then I got worse and had to be admitted into ICU. My symptoms were dizziness, confusion, mumbled speech and I could hardly walk. My O2 level was very low, my sugar levels out of control, I was experiencing vertigo, and I was in pain. Many tests were performed. I learned that I had some lung damage, kidney damage, sinus damage and some nerve damage.
After 6 years, I am doing much better, but I wanted to pass on some information. I now know that different cleaners with chlorides and those without chlorides do have very harmful fumes. Recently, I have noticed that many of the cleaners now have a better warning and label systems, but if you don’t read them, it really won’t help you or family members that may be in your work area. Take the time to look up the chemicals and please take the precautions to keep everyone safe.
Did you know that if you use chlorinated brake cleaners to clean your carb or throttle body that the process of combustion and heat can result in hydrogen chloride or possibly phosgene? It is also dangerous to spray brake cleaner onto hot brake rotors, which could result in dangerous fumes.
So, what do I use now? I mainly try to use soap and warm water which works most of the time, but does take a little longer. If needed, I will use an aerosol cleaner, but I will not use any that have chlorides in them. I also read the safety labels in full and if I have any doubt, I will research on the internet. This is serious because everyone that works on their own motorcycles has many cleaners, lubes, and paints in their garages. Please be careful and please pass this info on!
I would like to welcome Steve to the ChopCult family and am looking forward to working together. Kindly check out Steve's website and give him a follow on Facebook and Instagram.