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Thread: Oil polyurethane and our lungs

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Mar 2014
    Location
    Los Angeles
    Posts
    392

    Oil polyurethane and our lungs

    This is a quick heads up note about what can happen when you use oil based polyurethane -

    I used poly on a few pieces (with a paintbrush) over the past three weeks, and I've developed a low grade cough with a tightness in my lungs.

    My wife got on google and tells me this is likely a form of asthma in reaction to the isocyanates in the poly. It will most probably clear up, but I may be sensitized now, and even very small exposure might bring this on again.

    I've used oil based poly on occasion over the years, from floors to furniture and back, but I'm surprised this happened - we all think we're the exception or are being careful enough. My workshop is fairly big (1,800 sq ft approx) and I had the roll-up door open. I know many of you will have smaller shops, garages or basement shops where the air flow is more restricted.

    I will abstain using oil based poly as a straight finish, but I will still need to use the BLO/poly mix, so I'm hoping I won't react to that.

    So heads up! Your health is your wealth.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    Location
    WNY
    Posts
    5,080
    I think isocyanates (which you definitely want to avoid unless you have the proper PPE and environmental controls) are found only in some post cat polyurethane products, not in traditional oil based polyurethane varnish. Look up the Safety Data Sheet for the product you were using. That will detail any ingredients that are a health hazard. For example, here's a list of ingredients in Varathane's Ultimate Polyurethane Oil Based Varnish:

    3. Composition/Information On Ingredients 3. Composition/Information On Ingredients
    Chemical Name Chemical Name Chemical Name Chemical Name CAS-No. CAS-No. CAS-No. CAS-No. Weight % Weight % Weight % Weight % Less Than Less Than Less Than Less Than
    ACGIH TLVACGIH TLVACGIH TLVACGIH TLVTWA TWA TWA TWA
    ACGIH TLVACGIH TLVACGIH TLVACGIH TLVSTEL STEL STEL STEL OSHA PEL-TWA OSHA PEL-TWA OSHA PEL-TWA OSHA PEL-TWA OSHA PELOSHA PELOSHA PELOSHA PELCEILING CEILING CEILING CEILING Stoddard Solvents 8052-41-3 45.0 100 ppm N.E. 500 ppm N.E. Hydrotreated Light Distillate 64742-47-8 10.0 200 mg/m3 N.E. N.E. N.E. Zirconium 2-Ethylhexanoate 22464-99-9 5.0 5 mg/m3 10 mg/m3 5 mg/m3 N.E. Solvent Naptha, Light Aromatic 64742-95-6 1.0 N.E. N.E. N.E. N.E.

    If you were indeed using a traditional OB poly varnish my guess is your health issues came from exposure to something else. If so, you might want to look at what other materials you've been working with lately that could be responsible.



    John

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Apr 2016
    Location
    Tasmania
    Posts
    1,720
    Mark, you need to get your symptoms check professionally. You are more likely to be sensitive to something else. Single pack polyurethanes contain only trace amounts of isocyanates and these are hazardous when inhaled as an aerosol as when spraying. Brush application is a recognised method of controlling the hazard.

    While it is true that uncontrolled use of polyurethane is both reckless and hazardous, the correct use of a respirator and mechanical ventilation protects the user from the hazard as has been proven over the past 60 or more years. Cured polyurethane is an extremely safe material suitable for food and potable water contact. We would all be shocked at what went missing if polyurethane was deleted from our lives. Cheers

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2014
    Location
    Los Angeles
    Posts
    392
    John, Wayne - thanks for the informed responses.

    I checked out the msds for oil based poly. My conclusion is there are several families of vocs that could cause discomfort with heavy exposure, but nothing a reasonable person wouldn't expect.

    I'll get my masks out and act like a grown up! thanks.

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