Scale Modeling Often Relies On Your Health

Without trying to scare modelers away from their hobby, this article tries to tell a little about some
of the health risks that occur when building scale models.

By Rob Plas

As most of you will probably know well, the hobby of building scale models from trucks, tanks,
airplanes and ships has taken an enormous jump forward the last 10 years. New techniques as
well as new materials have created a whole new era in making replicas of the things we admire f
or one reason or another.

With all those new materials new chemicals were also introduced to the hobby. Think about glues,
paints and plastics. Some of these materials can form a risk for your health. For me the reason to
write about these risks is twosome:

1st - I work in a chemical plant and have received a lot of training about the dangers of certain
chemicals like solvents, I feel that I should share this information with other modelers.

2nd - In our Club “TWENOT” some time ago a member was hospitalized for about 10 days after
working with resin cast parts.

The dangers involved with modeling can be divided in 2 kinds of risks: the immediate, short term
risks and the long-term risks.

*Short term risks: - Injuries to hands and eyes from cutting, grinding and other mechanical
methods - Eye injury trough chemicals - Fire.

*Long term risks - Allergic reactions to certain chemicals - Problems to the respiratory system
due to over exposure to chemicals - Brain damage caused by over exposure to solvents.

Short Term risks:

Injuries to hands and eyes - When working with sharp knives it is obviously that you will cut your fingers once in a while. Usually these are tiny cuts with razor sharp knives so this won’t be a very big problem. There are some basic rules to prevent yourself from cutting really bad: never work towards yourself allows cut away from yourself. If the knife slips away you won’t cut yourself badly in your hand or fingers. What is a bigger problem is the fact that splinters, sawdust and other tiny bits can come into your eye. Also electrical tools can let drills fly all around your workbench. Avoid this by wearing safety glasses and if this occurs: Do Not rub your eyes! Ask for help to rinse your eyes with some clean water and see a doctor if your eyes keep hurting.

Eye injury trough chemicals - With this I mean contamination of your eyes with fumes from superglue, thinners, solvents and paints. Don’t rub your eyes, rinse with water and see a doctor. When you have got Superglue, or AcrylCyanoate Glue in your eyes go directly to a doctor, don’t attempt to open the affected eye your self as you might damage the lens of your eye.

Fire - Some of the practices in the hobby involve heating plastics on an open flame, soldering irons and heat-treating PE sets. Often this is done on a workbench loaded with other hobby gear. Take a look around, what do you see? A bottle of Thinner? Some turpentine and alcohol based thinners too? Perhaps an open jar with thinner for cleaning brushes? Polystyrene glue? All these chemicals are highly inflammable.
In short: Be very careful with heat and open flames. An accident can occur before you even realize it. And be honest, do you have a fire extinguisher at hand on your workbench?

Long term risks

Most of the long-term risks are more dangerous than the list above because these risks are not always
very clear.

Allergic reactions to certain chemicals and problems to the respiratory system due to over exposure to
chemicals. To realize what dangers we are talking about here you first need to know some basic information:

Allergic reactions occur when we come in contact with materials our body cannot really cope with. Allergic
reactions can display itself at the skin, like red spots and

even wounds in the long term and as problems with the respiratory system. We are all common to people
being allergic to cats and dogs while Hayfever is also a typical allergic reaction.

It is a fact that you can usually withstand a lot of contact with a material you’re in fact allergic to, without
having any trouble at all. But when you finally reached the point where your body starts “over” reacting to
contact with a chemical it will hardly ever go away.

Allergies - You can develop an allergy for solvents and thinners and also resin, more precise Polyurethane
Resin is a chemical that can give very strong allergic attacks. As mentioned before a Dutch modeler was
hospitalized for about 10 days with severe nosebleeds, and big problems to his respiratory system. He was
working with Polyurethane Resin when the problems started. The dust from sanding some parts did the job.
Therefore it is essential that you try to minimize the amount of dust you inhale when sanding, sawing and
cutting plastics. The easiest way is to wear a safety mask, use wet sandpaper and clean up the workbench
as often as possible. Also be sure not to eat, drink or smoke while working with these plastics.

Brain damage caused by over exposure to solvents - This may sound very dramatic but it doesn’t have
to be. More and more literature about a disease called OPS is now available and it is now clear that this disease is caused by minute brain damage due to years and years of working with solvents. In Holland the disease is called “Painters Disease” because this is one of the labour groups that frequently show the effects of this disease. These
effects are: sudden mood changes, loss of concentration and feeling tired and numb.

Although most modelers don’t use large amounts of the thinners and solvents that may inflict people, they do
often work in ill-ventilated areas and very close to their faces; in fact usually they are sitting right above the
fumes and vapors. These solvents are to be found in many paints, glues and putties. Some solvents are
also possible carcinogens, which mean they may increase the risk for developing cancer. I will give you a
short list of chemicals commonly used by many modelers with their risks for your health.

Acetone - Used for gluing and cleaning airbrushes and brushes: Solvent, danger for OPS

AcrylCyanoate or Super glue - Suspected fumes and also dangerous for the eyes, it glues flesh together

Acrylic Paints - safest paint to use, low in fumes and solvents, often alcohol based

Benzene - Used for cleaning airbrushes, Solvent, risk for OPS and carcinogens

Caustic Soda - sometimes used for stripping paint of models, can give you severe burns and can cause
blindness when the solution is too strong

Enamel paints - paints based on oils, their thinners are the most risky components.

Epoxy Putties - like Zimm-it-rite and Miliput - Can cause skin and eye irritation, harmful when swallowed

MEK - Solvent used for cleaning airbrushes and gluing plastics: OPS and suspected of having carcinogens

Pigments in paint - Some of the pigments in paints are based on oxidized metals like Cadmium and Titanium.
A Dutch beer brewery (Heineken) had to destroy all of their yellow crates a few years back because of the
Cadmium Yellow pigments in the plastics. As this cost them millions you can understand they didn't do
this voluntarily.

Polystyrene glue - Often Toluene based solvent with OPS risk and suspected of having carcinogens

Polyurethane Resin plastic - the dust is the most dangerous, because it can enter your respiratory system.

Polyester - very harmful vapors will occur during the curing process.

Primer paints - Often from a spray can, lots of unhealthy vapors and pigments.

Silicone Rubber Compounds - Can cause skin and eye irritation

Soldering lead - The fumes are not very healthy, lead is poisoning also.


Before you decide to stop modeling and get another hobby, take these safety steps. Protecting yourself from
these risks is quite easy and not really expensive.

For most solvents and fumes a respiratory mask will do. Get a type with changeable filters so that you will be
cheaper of in the long term. A good mask will cost you about 30 U.S. Dollars and it will last for ages.

Ventilate the room when working.

Don’t lick your brushes.

Wash your hands after finishing the job, don’t eat, drink or smoke during the job.

Use a dust mask when sanding plastics and always try to use wet paper. Apart from the health advantages
you will get a smoother finish too.

When working with resin: Don’t use your Proxxon, Dremel or other electrical tool, the dust generated by
these tools is enormous.

Work in good light conditions so that you won’t accidentally cut your fingers.

Try to wear safety glasses when working with your Dremel tool.

Be very careful when building your own compressor, a friend of mine build a compressor from an old
refrigerator compressor and an old gas tank. He blew up his shed because he forgot to turn the thing
of and it had no safety devices.

I’d like to finish this article with stating that I don’t want to tell you how to do your modeling, this article is purely intended to make people aware of some of the risks involved with working with the things we use. Maybe some newcomers in the hobby are not aware of these risks and will be more careful now.

Happy Modeling,
Rob Plas

Published with permission


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