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Strange taste & throat closing while wire sanding mystery metal

Q. Hi everyone, I found a metal object in shape of sea snail shell under a deck. It looks old. The metal appears a silvery colour but is yellowing. There are rusty looking (but I don't think it's rust) areas, some small green corrosion areas too. I was guessing it's pewter. Metal is not very heavy for it's size.

I washed the shell with dishwashing liquid. After drying I used a dremel [on eBay or Amazon (adv.)] with stainless steel brush to start removing yellow colour and corrosion. Cup shaped brush turned metal a dark grey. Wheel shaped brush turned metal a silver colour.
I started on underside as precaution but started to get symptoms you see in the heading, so I stopped and looked you up! What type of metal do you think I've found? Do you think a liquid solution (like vinegar) would be safer? etc?

Gilbert O'Sughrue
- Auckland, New Zealand
April 21, 2024

A. Hi Gilbert. First things first: I don't care what you're sanding or brushing -- wood, paint, ceramic, metal -- never do so without wearing at the very least a disposable dust mask, even a 3-for-$1 Covid mask if you have nothing else. No such dust belongs in your lungs! Every single one of them is bad for you.

I don't think anyone can guess what metal it is. It might be a plain aluminum or zinc diecasting, or pewter; it might be any of them with a copper & nickel plating on top (would explain the brown and green). The concern for me is that it just might be copper & nickel plating on top of cadmium jewelry. Cadmium is, like mercury and lead, a bio-accumulative poison. Just a few years ago Walmart sold cadmium children's jewelry.

If you know anyone working in a lab or a scrapyard you could ask them to test the metal for you. Otherwise, although your symptoms could be from a relatively harmless metal or partially psychosomatic, if you wanted to go to a doctor for a cadmium blood test that doesn't sound unreasonable to me.

Luck & Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

thumbs up sign Thank you for your quick reply Ted.
Yes sir, I will adopt a mask wearing habit forthwith!

I doubt it's aluminium. I don't really know anything about nickel and will use this as an opportunity to research it.
I may be able to get a test done by a local scrap merchant, who once offered me a job.

Great site! Thanks again,

Gilbert O'Sughrue [returning]
- Auckland, New Zealand
April 22, 2024

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