We know that glues and adhesives are indispensable for all kinds of projects, from assembling a model airplane to putting up a wall. While some, like the library paste that generations of children have sampled, are harmless, others contain toxins that can make you sick.
Glues and adhesives come in many forms. They include epoxy, instant glue, plastic adhesives, rubber cement, and white glue. When solvents are added to thin out naturally thick glues, a problem arises in that when the solvents evaporate after the glue is applied, toxic vapors fill the air. When the solvent is water, as in nontoxic glues, the vapor is harmless. But the compounds used in contact cement, epoxy, instant glue, model glue, and rubber cement, among others, are potentially hazardous. They contain chemicals that can irritate the eyes, throat, and lungs if inhaled and can burn the skin on contact. These include acrylonitrile, formaldehyde, ethanol, naphthalene, phenol, toluene, and vinyl chloride. Toluene, for example, has been linked to kidney problems. Formaldehyde, phenol, and vinyl chloride, on the other hand, are suspected carcinogens.
Before using any glue or adhesive, read (and heed) the manufacturer’s instructions. And try adhering to these few safety precautions:
– Never use glues near an open flame.
– Don’t use toxic adhesives on items that will come into contact with food, such as plates.
– For large projects that require mesaproducts toxic glues, wear long-sleeved shirts and pants, goggles, rubber gloves, and a respirator (available at hardware stores).
– When using toxic glues, don’t wear soft contact lenses; they can absorb solvent fumes.
– Always use glues in a well-ventilated area, and replace the cap or lid tightly after applying the product, even during frequent applications.
– You can dispose of nontoxic glues and instant glue in the regular trash, but save spent containers of other adhesives for hazardous-waste collection.
– Instant glues bond instantly, not just to target surfaces, but to skin as well. If this happens, call a poison control center or doctor immediately. When using this kind of glue, be especially careful not to touch your mouth or eyes with your fingers.
The safest glues and adhesives are glue sticks, library paste, mucilage, white glue, and yellow carpenter’s glue – all low-odor and nontoxic. When starting a project, consider whether one will serve in place of a toxic product. White glue, for example, works surprisingly well for laying hardwood floors. For jobs that require other types of adhesives, look for less-toxic alternatives. Buy rubber cement with a heptane base instead of the more noxious hexane base. Opt for water-based glues when possible. Water-based adhesives for hanging wallpaper are available, as are water-based contact cements.