Health concerns regarding materials in harmonicas?

Anything apart from the two mainstream default harmonicas (Solo-tuned fully-valved chromatic, and un-valved Richter 10-hole diatonic). Alternate tunings, different construction, new functionality, interesting old designs, wishful-thinking... whatever!
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EdvinW
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Health concerns regarding materials in harmonicas?

Post by EdvinW » Thu Nov 22, 2018 2:02 pm

I would like to talk about the various materials used in our instruments. As we go about not only pressing them to our lips, but also ingesting whatever dissolves into the saliva, which goes back and forth into the harp as we blow and draw for hours a week all year around.

When it comes to food packing, there are regulations as to which materials are allowed for which sorts of food, but despite searching high and low I have not found any similar discussion on musical instruments. People, myself included, will take anything they find lying about, maybe clean it, and happily put it in their mouth just to get that feeling of utter delight we all know comes from making an interesting sound. The materials range from definitely non-food safe plastics to electric components and solder, all of which may over time have negative side effects.

Home tinkering is one thing, but neither established manufacturers seem to pay much mind to their materials, or at least they don't expect their customers to care. Take Seydel for instance, a great company in many respects. Their Orchestra S, Session Antique and others have a comb made of some unspecified "plastic", and their De Luxe Steel has a comb of acrylic, the latter not considered a food safe material even by the plastic industry (see for instance https://www.directplastics.co.uk/about_ ... g-plastics).

The three most common materials in harps are plastic, metal and wood, the latter often coated or otherwise treated with plastic or similar materials.

Plastics are very complex materials, whose precise composition are determined by the raw oil used, the extraction process, treatments to give certain properties and post processing such as coating. These steps, which each may add, remove or modify compounds, are most often carried out by different agents, so getting a good grasp of the precise contents of a particular product often requires some careful lab work. To then determine which components actually may leak out is yet another complicated question, and even if we find out it is often not obvious what this actually means in terms of health. Many substances have poorly understood biological behaviours, and the impact of the various combinations (so called cocktail effects), especially for consistent low dosages over very long timescales, are often mere guesswork. The plastics that ARE considered food safe are those whose released substances are not proven to be short-term harmful on their own. A good example is BPA, a compound which has received recent attention as scientists demonstrate harmful effects. The industry respond to this, but often they just replace the BPA by BPF, BPS or some other very similar compound which has not yet been as well studied. Though it is not clear that the product is safer, they can now proclaim the product "BPA-free" and thereby often even raise the price. I've seen studies where the content of certain chemicals from popular plastics in blood samples from Americans successfully predict how much plastic coated fast food someone eats (paper around food is coated with plastic as a rule).

I have several times noted that if I let a plastic harp lie in a not-that-ventilated space it gets a certain smell/taste which makes it unpleasant to play, and no cleaning I've tried gets it away. A while back I met someone at an event who had a bag of rather new Seydel Session Steel, and when I tried one it had a distinct taste of plastic. Experiences such as these make me uneasy, and I wonder what my dear hobby is doing to my long term health.

Metals are less complex, but there are still issues. For one we all know about heavy metals, such as lead, and that it's generally a very bad idea to ingest them. I've also heard some people being upset about aluminium in food cans, but as a layman it is hard to get a good grasp on how founded these complaints are. My main concern about metals, which is also valid for plastics, is that the company that made the slab that eventually became a read plate or a comb or whatever probably did not have in mind that someone would put their product into their moth for several hours a day. As an illustration, Blue Moon Harmonicas (which I have only positive experiences with!) state that they make combs out of architectural brass or aircraft grade aluminium, but the fact that a material is developed to be a good choice in aircrafts is not very reassuring from a health perspective, at least to me. There are also the suggested links between Alzheimer and aluminium in drinking water: How much of this stuff actually gets into our bodies as we play?

I often see metal parts coated with something shiny I don't know what it is, and on other non-harmonica products I've seen similar coating come off in small sheets. There is also the solder often recommended for retuning. Though solder is nowadays often lead-free, it may contain different flux agents and/or impurities. At some point I suppose most formulas are evaluated from a health perspective, but this evaluation hardly has harmonica players in mind. (I will not even go into the electronic components and circuit boards in an ELX electric harmonica.)

Wood I would consider safe under most circumstances, but the various furnishes and ubiquitous wood-composite materials raise the same questions as the above mentioned plastic.

As harmonica players we sit in a very special situation. Even though some other instruments are made from questionable materials we are rather unique in that we even inhale through ours. We here at this forum are especially affected as the various cool innovations that we love are often realised using found materials, improvised tools and 3D printers.

So: How do you all feel about these things? Do you have any thoughts, comments, worries or reassurances? I realise this post is very long, and you don't need to react to it all; any short comment would be welcome! I just hope to raise the question and hopefully get some discussion going, as I currently feel rather alone in my worries.
Last edited by EdvinW on Mon Nov 26, 2018 10:21 am, edited 1 time in total.

karl.nilsson
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Re: Health concerns regarding materials in harmonicas?

Post by karl.nilsson » Sun Nov 25, 2018 12:38 pm

Very good observations, Edwin.

Thanks for such a thorough review!

Some of your thoughts mentioned have crossed my mind. I did get lead-free solder, and I have thought about avoiding inhaling metal from microscopic filing residues, but that's about it. Inhaling blu-tack comes to mind right now.

Anyway, I welcome this discussion for more observations and thoughts.

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triona
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Re: Health concerns regarding materials in harmonicas?

Post by triona » Sun Nov 25, 2018 8:30 pm

There are some quite interesting points. Reminds me on the discussion about the case of letal lung disease by playing fungus infected bagpipes some years ago, most propably caused by poor maintenance and hygienics of the instrument.
(See here: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/scie ... 06021.html and others.)


Up till now I just tried to avoid cleaning the instrument with toxic chemicals, as well as avoiding the use of toxic glues, varnesses, lubricants (slide) etc for repair. Old and heavily dirty instruments will be cleaned ultrasonic. Diligent removal of filing after tuning is necessary.

I do not consider that intoxication by solder containing lead is a severe issue. I consider the lead is not sufficiently volatile after solidification, that it is possible to inhale. And no one is licking on the reeds. But anyway, there are lead free solders available. If they contain metals with potentially toxic qualities - who knows, but see what I have said about lead.

At least I strictly avoid to play instruments with aluminium comb or covers. I can not have any aluminium in my mouth. Most probably I have no allergy in a medical sense. But my saliva reacts on any aluminium with a kind of electrogalvanic reaction. It feels like licking on a dry battery. I can not eat with an aluminium spoon either. It tastes that horribly, that I prefer to skip the meal, if it is not possible to eat it with fingers only, and I do not have any spoon in my handbag.


As already mentioned: Quite interesting to think about. But on the other hand: If Eurocracy might start to think about it, maybe there would come out another bureaucratic monster of rules and laws. Finally they might even consider to prohibit production, selling and playing harmonicas at all. :roll:


dear greeting
triona
Aw, Thou beloved, do hearken to the Banshee's lonely croon!
sinn féin - ça ira !
Cad é sin do'n té sin nach mbaineann sin dó


https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC1yI3H ... 9ktgzTR2qg

EdvinW
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Re: Health concerns regarding materials in harmonicas?

Post by EdvinW » Wed Nov 28, 2018 11:24 am

Thanks for the comments!

For the record, I'l like to point out that I myself play plastic harps daily, and that I absolutely don't want to point fingers at people who do.

While searching (I've done quite a bit of that lately), I found the following:
https://myplasticfreelife.com/2011/04/b ... chemicals/
Though the author is obviously a convinced anti-plasic preacher, the study referred to in the post seems legit.

I've noted that many manufacturers don't declare what kind of plastic they use, and though I still feel uneasy about buying unspecified plastics, after reading this one might question how much it actually matters.
karl.nilsson wrote:
Sun Nov 25, 2018 12:38 pm
Very good observations, Edwin.

Thanks for such a thorough review!

Some of your thoughts mentioned have crossed my mind. I did get lead-free solder, and I have thought about avoiding inhaling metal from microscopic filing residues, but that's about it. Inhaling blu-tack comes to mind right now.

Anyway, I welcome this discussion for more observations and thoughts.
As with most of the materials in use, blu tack is not acutely poisonous, and according to their website swallowing small amounts poses no health risk, but with the precise formula being secret all we have is their word. I know it has a taste and a smell, so it lets off something.

Even though ingestion of a gram will not give noticeable problems, as with other synthetic materials what worries me is the very low exposure of a very large number of substances over very long time scales. We expect that they add up somehow, but it's not clear how. Also, we know that some plastics are indeed dangerous, and with so many of them so poorly understood, I wonder about the risk of missing some quite bad ones.
triona wrote:
Sun Nov 25, 2018 8:30 pm
There are some quite interesting points. Reminds me on the discussion about the case of letal lung disease by playing fungus infected bagpipes some years ago, most propably caused by poor maintenance and hygienics of the instrument.
(See here: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/scie ... 06021.html and others.)


Up till now I just tried to avoid cleaning the instrument with toxic chemicals, as well as avoiding the use of toxic glues, varnesses, lubricants (slide) etc for repair. Old and heavily dirty instruments will be cleaned ultrasonic. Diligent removal of filing after tuning is necessary.

I do not consider that intoxication by solder containing lead is a severe issue. I consider the lead is not sufficiently volatile after solidification, that it is possible to inhale. And no one is licking on the reeds. But anyway, there are lead free solders available. If they contain metals with potentially toxic qualities - who knows, but see what I have said about lead.

At least I strictly avoid to play instruments with aluminium comb or covers. I can not have any aluminium in my mouth. Most probably I have no allergy in a medical sense. But my saliva reacts on any aluminium with a kind of electrogalvanic reaction. It feels like licking on a dry battery. I can not eat with an aluminium spoon either. It tastes that horribly, that I prefer to skip the meal, if it is not possible to eat it with fingers only, and I do not have any spoon in my handbag.


As already mentioned: Quite interesting to think about. But on the other hand: If Eurocracy might start to think about it, maybe there would come out another bureaucratic monster of rules and laws. Finally they might even consider to prohibit production, selling and playing harmonicas at all. :roll:


dear greeting
triona
Interesting to be reminded of the unfortunate bag piper!

As for the lead being an issue, this depends somewhat on the saliva. I did some reading on lead in general, including solvency:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plumbosolvency
Lead is sometimes found in water pipes, and I learnt that the extent to which it gets into the water depends among other things on the acidity and temperature of the latter, with warm acidic water solving much more lead then cold basic water. (Apparently this is one of the reasons you shouldn't drink warm water from the tap!) Saliva is often somewhat acid, one source claims it typically ranges between 6.2 and 7.6, and 6.2 is definitely lower then the recommended levels for water in lead pipes. Saliva is also warmer than cold tap water.

Could your reaction to some metals be a sign of acidic saliva? I know batteries often require an acid medium to work.

Even though we do not lick the reads, at least I exchange at least some amount of saliva back and forth into my harps, and I would not like to have any lead in there.

r!Bo.
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Re: Health concerns regarding materials in harmonicas?

Post by r!Bo. » Sun Dec 02, 2018 5:48 pm

This is a interesting subject and one that I have pondered at times .
I am an enthusiast of Stainless Steel reeds because of this reason.
Although Stainless Steel varies in composition I assume it is may be more benign to the human body.
It does not readily oxidize like the Brass/Bronze families.
It also is a choice metal in the medical field.
Phosphor Bronze and other Brasses also vary and may have many other metal components in variations percentages.
Some may be Zinc, Nickel, Lead, Copper and their alloys and others.
The worst scenario would be Beryllium Copper, which is a wonderful springy material used in electro mechanical devices .It's dust is very carcinogenic.
Hopefully this metal is not present in the Brass/ Bronze formulae compositions that harmonica manufacturers use.
Even some wood dusts are toxic, also there is the mold problem with wet woods.
It is wonderful some folks are becoming more proactive of what enters the body and it's effects.
Especially concerning their favorite pastimes and passions like playing musical instruments.
I guess if I were to give up a couple years of my life in comparison to 50 plus years of wonderful Harmonica experience, It may be worth it.
That all depends on the suffering involved the ailment has in the end.
Great Post by Edwin W.
r!Bo

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triona
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Re: Health concerns regarding materials in harmonicas?

Post by triona » Sun Dec 02, 2018 6:52 pm

No risk - no fun. :lol:
Live dangerous! 8-)
Get that sex & drugs & rock'n`Roll! Image Image Image Image
:mrgreen: Image :mrgreen:


dear greetings
triona Image Image
Aw, Thou beloved, do hearken to the Banshee's lonely croon!
sinn féin - ça ira !
Cad é sin do'n té sin nach mbaineann sin dó


https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC1yI3H ... 9ktgzTR2qg

EdvinW
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Re: Health concerns regarding materials in harmonicas?

Post by EdvinW » Thu Dec 06, 2018 3:51 pm

r!Bo. wrote:
Sun Dec 02, 2018 5:48 pm
This is a interesting subject and one that I have pondered at times .
I am an enthusiast of Stainless Steel reeds because of this reason.
Although Stainless Steel varies in composition I assume it is may be more benign to the human body.
It does not readily oxidize like the Brass/Bronze families.
It also is a choice metal in the medical field.
Phosphor Bronze and other Brasses also vary and may have many other metal components in variations percentages.
Some may be Zinc, Nickel, Lead, Copper and their alloys and others.
The worst scenario would be Beryllium Copper, which is a wonderful springy material used in electro mechanical devices .It's dust is very carcinogenic.
Hopefully this metal is not present in the Brass/ Bronze formulae compositions that harmonica manufacturers use.
Even some wood dusts are toxic, also there is the mold problem with wet woods.
It is wonderful some folks are becoming more proactive of what enters the body and it's effects.
Especially concerning their favorite pastimes and passions like playing musical instruments.
I guess if I were to give up a couple years of my life in comparison to 50 plus years of wonderful Harmonica experience, It may be worth it.
That all depends on the suffering involved the ailment has in the end.
Great Post by Edwin W.
r!Bo
I've started to look for metal combs when I buy new harps, but, as you point out, there are problems there as well. What material do you prefer for the combs of your steel reed harmonicas?

Someone should bring a couple of harps to a toxicologist, have them scrape of pieces of the different materials to see what they find! Does anyone know a toxicologist? :)

I know there is a department at the university here in Gothenburg, and if they don't think it would be interesting to check these things they might be able to point me to some lab where I could pay to have some samples analysed. I hope to get around to at least asking them before Christmas, but I'm not sure I'll find the time.

alfredhmckeon
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Re: Health concerns regarding materials in harmonicas?

Post by alfredhmckeon » Mon Dec 10, 2018 12:45 am

You are right. I suppose that this is a real problem for all young and old people. Health concerns regarding materials in harmonicas.

Lizzy
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Re: Health concerns regarding materials in harmonicas?

Post by Lizzy » Wed Dec 12, 2018 3:02 pm

I know there there is materials that have health issues when they are processed but are harmless as a finished product. Glue ex. some superglues are dangerous to inhale but well dryed become crystallized and harmless. I have worked in color industries some years ago where they make UV colors. The UV color is dangerous to process and are highly suspected to cancer if you got a drop of it on your skin still wet and walked out in the sun. Well dryed you could eat it without danger. They use UV colors on many items ex. milk packages, on plastics and on many other materials. But sure, we dont have much control over what they are using in our products and must have interest in the future for materials that are harmless to our health.

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