What are the dangers of solvent based adhesives like volatile organic compounds DMF, MEK and Toluene?
Most people know that solvents are bad for you. Even more people know that VOC’s are dangerous chemicals. But far fewer people actually know what they are. We’re going to break it down for you.
Solvent adhesives are necessary to create the special glues developed to bond complex materials. (If you’ve ever tried to glue two pieces of plastic together, you know that regular Elmer’s doesn’t work.)
These adhesives are very effective at what they’re designed for, however, the downside is that the solvents in them are volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are toxic to living things. As a result, their use is highly regulated in the manufacturing process. Workers wear protective gear and fumes are specially captured. At least in Western countries. (I have walked out of cut-and-sew factories in Asia, where these types of solvents are used, and felt completely light headed after 1/2 an hour. The long term effects on the workers is a very real concern).
But even afterward the manufacturing process these solvents can still “off-gas” harmful fumes. Just think about that “new product smell” you get when you rip open the packaging of most products that use glue in their construction.
Here are three of the most common solvent adhesives and their dangers.
DMF has been termed “the universal solvent.” It’s used for vinyl resins, adhesives and epoxy formulations such as laminated printed circuit boards. It’s an industrial paint stripper, and a carrier for inks and dyes.
DMF has been linked to cancer in humans, and it is thought to cause birth defects.
Butanone (Methyl Ethyl Ketone or MEK)
MEK is used as a solvent in processes that involve gums, resins, cellulose acetate, and cellulose nitrate. It is also used in the manufacturing of some synthetic rubbers.
MEK has been shown to affect the central nervous system.
Toluene is used as a solvent to make aviation gasoline, spray and wall paints, paint thinner, medicine, dyes, explosives, detergents, fingernail polish, spot removers, lacquers, adhesives, rubber, and antifreeze.
Exposure to toluene can cause confusion, weakness, memory loss, nausea, and even hearing and color vision loss.
What can you do about these common toxins and how can you avoid these dangerous solvent based adhesives? Look for products that are made with non-toxic materials, including the glues holding it together. You’ll be supporting manufacturers who have found alternatives to these powerful toxins.
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