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Safety in storing and handling hardware for junk art

By eyore ยท 18 replies
Apr 12, 2014
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  1. Hi, new to the forum and newbie-level in knowledge (with hardware). So, sorry for how my questions sound. Also, I didn't know where else to put this.

    I'd just found out that computers have toxic parts, and am just wondering:

    I have some old laptops and parts (flash drives, hard drives, etc.). Are the levels of these metals in a few (2-3?) flash drives, laptops and hard drives high enough to be considered toxic? Anything else I should watch out for?

    I want to store a bunch of old computers, laptops, flash drives and hard drives from old laptops until I get the time to sort them out to resell them, but I live in the tropics, and don't know how to store them properly. Should I be worried about heat? And I held and will hold internal parts (the internal hard drives taken out of old laptops) barehanded--is that okay? Or it's not dangerous unless they're broken up? Is there a difference between internal hard drives and the internal parts of flash drives?

    I admit I'm also thinking of making money off of the laptops, flash drives and parts by, uh, trying art. I admit I'm not an artist, but I'm thinking of taking that up as a hobby (and yes, additional income source in case the reselling doesn't work). I know of someone who does something related with internal parts of old computers (we're not close), so I got the idea there.

    Is this idea viable for me? And if it can be done, anything I have to watch out for? Any precautions I have to take? Can, I, for instance, paint on or glue them (will the paint or glue affect anything? Which parts--the green board, the black chips, anything else my amateur mind hasn't picked up?)? Drill holes or cut them (anything--green board, black chips, etc.) via scissors/knife to make a picture frame, Christmas tree decor, or a keychain? If I make a keychain, for instance, will I have to watch what kind of material for the hook I should pick out? Is it dangerous if I use a hammer to dismantle a flash drive (I don't know how else to pry open the casing)? Can I do all of this barehanded?

    About heat: my only storage option is prone to getting hot. I admit I am more worried about, say, the metal getting hot enough to release fumes and the like, than about whether the parts get too damaged to work properly. Would heat do that?
  2. AJAY1

    AJAY1 TS Rookie

    I've never heard of this problem, but I suppose if lead-based solder was used, it could give off fumes. I'm not an expert in the field, but I have all kinds of old hardware parts that I've stored, dismantled, used, handled, melted, painted, what have you... never had any issues. Battery packs from laptops might be of concern though. They can fail and vent, resulting in fire or leakage of bad juju. Best toss them or store them properly (this you would have to research).
  3. SNGX1275

    SNGX1275 TS Forces Special Posts: 10,545   +429

    I work as an environmental coordinator for a metal finishing company, and we deal with a lot of hazardous wastes. We don't really deal with lead or mercury outside of SLA batteries and metal halide and fluorescent bulbs (which incidentally aren't hazardous wastes in the US, they are 'universal wastes' but have special disposal regulations if you are a large quantity haz waste generator).

    The answer to almost all of your questions is you are fine, but wash your hands before eating. Lead is going to be the most toxic thing you find in any quantity in computers*, most modern components are really minimizing lead usage now, but if you get some old drives and stuff there may be decent quantities in it. The thing about lead is that it does most of its damage to humans when we are in our developmental stages, it isn't horribly harmful (comparatively) when you are done growing/developing.

    For drilling, that will create some dust, so I would do that in a well ventilated area or preferably outside where you keep that dust out of your home.

    Gluing/painting is going to be fine, in fact, that will be helpful and reduce/eliminate any future handling hazards (however minimal they are). If you are going to make something like a keychain, personally, I would try and clear coat it (clear paint/polyurethane) first, to just provide a nearly invisible protective barrier between you and anything toxic. Don't worry about metal incompatibilities.

    I wouldn't worry about the heat, in their serviceable life they likely got hotter than you are going to be storing them, and they are old so any VOCs that were with them are likely all gone now.

    Basically, you are going to be fine if you wash your hands and take precautions to minimize dust if you are drilling. There really isn't anything you need to be very afraid of from a chemical health standpoint if you do that.

    Be wary of capacitors if you are going to be playing around with old CRTs or PSUs, from an electrical discharge standpoint.

    I would minimize (avoid) heating the products in an attempt to melt things off of them. If you must, do it outside and stay up wind.

    *Probably some trace arsenic in 15+ year old components, nothing to be worried about unless you plan on sucking on the parts. Again, wash your hands before eating.
    Last edited: Apr 15, 2014
  4. eyore

    eyore TS Rookie Topic Starter

    AJAY1: This is good to hear, thanks. I won't be using any batteries, thankfully, but thanks for the tip there.

    SNGX1275: What I have (flash drives and laptops) dates back to the early 2000s, I think. At the earliest. Would they have decent lead quantities in them?

    Oh, I won't be melting anything. Won't cutting create dust too (dust is dangerous then, right?)? Or the amount of dust it would won't be a health hazard anyway?

    It's also come to my attention that, for storage (I'm not going to be working on them for a while), moisture might also be a problem. And I live in the tropics (yikes, right?). The storage spaces I have available for the parts are the attic, a general-purpose storage room, and cabinets (medium to small). The parts will be sharing space with a lot of paper, among other things. And wherever I'm going to store them gets really hot during the day--I don't pretend to be an expert, but even if the heat won't be a problem, won't that create moisture?

    I also happen to have run out of desiccant and don't have any bags besides typical plastic shopping bags, and the ones you'd use when you go out (cloth or whatever, I'm not an expert, fake leather, etc.). If I just wrap them in the plastic bags and shove them in the storage room or cabinet, will that be fine, or will I have a potential health hazard?
  5. fimbles

    fimbles TS Evangelist Posts: 1,192   +208

    PCBs are made of fibreglass, Wear suitable goggles and mask when cutting or drilling.
  6. SNGX1275

    SNGX1275 TS Forces Special Posts: 10,545   +429

    Heat and moisture aren't going to be a problem. There will likely be more lead in the products as you go up in age, but really it isn't going to be hazardous to handle. Just wash your hands before eating.

    @fimbles, yeah I probably should have mentioned the fiberglass, I had already typed a lot and was getting lazy. Really though, drilling won't make much dust. Sawing for cutting (dremel, hacksaw, circular saw) will, and it would probably be worth wearing a dust mask and safety goggles.
  7. eyore

    eyore TS Rookie Topic Starter

    Sorry for the late reply.

    fimbles and SNGX1275: I'm sorry to ask this, but what's a PCB? VOC? Fiberglass? Where can I get suitable goggles and masks? While we're at it, is it okay if I do the work indoors? Set aside a makeshift workspace in a room in the house? I don't have a good outdoor space to work in. What is a well-ventilated area anyway--I gather a room with one or two windows open and a fan on wouldn't be that (I have zero knowledge of architecture or whatever is the relevant field, so: a room with all the windows open automatically means well-ventilated?).

    I feel self-conscious saying this, but I won't be using any saws (Uh, okay, I'm so much of a newbie here that I don't even know if I even have to use a saw--why yes, I'm attempting junk art by practically jumping right in! Smart, huh?). Just scissors and/or knife, is the plan. Never touched a saw before.

    Is this idea sound anyway? What materials besides the saws should I be thinking of getting? And yes, I'm staying clear of melting anything as much as possible (don't have the materials, don't even know how I'd do that anyway).

    Forgot to put this in the last post: capacitors? PSUs? CRTs? That, uh, flew over my head.

    Heat and moisture not a problem? That's good to hear. I was under the impression all this time that my storage space isn't, uh, ideal--I don't have air-conditioners, or any device that would control the temperature, and the storage spaces I'm thinking of putting them in don't have good ventilation. On top of not having desiccants or good bags besides the typical plastic shopping bags. Not a good recipe, that kind of thing.
  8. SNGX1275

    SNGX1275 TS Forces Special Posts: 10,545   +429

    PCB - Printed Circuit Board - it is the rigid material that the components are attached to.
    VOC - Volatile Organic Compounds - Responsible for the smell new products give off, don't worry about it.
    Fiberglass - What is used along with epoxys in the PCBs to give them strength/rigidity.

    If you aren't using any saws you won't need any masks, eye protection is always a good idea, however, if I was doing this stuff at home, I likely wouldn't wear any. Risk is low, and severity is also low if you aren't using any power tools. I wouldn't worry too much about ventilation either, without power tools or heat (to desolder) there isn't going to be enough stuff getting into the air to be of concern.

    Capacitors are going to be on nearly everything, but the only ones of any real hazard are going to be in PSUs and CRTs. Here is a link on handling them.
    PSU - Power Supply Unit, the thing that takes power from the wall and sends it to all the parts in the computer.
    CRT - Cathode Ray Tube, the big boxy monitors and televisions from before everything was LED/LCD.

    Heat and moisture aren't ideal storage for electronics if you plan on using them for their original purpose again, but since you are using them for art everything is fine. Outside of some screws, there is little to no iron in most electronics (esp the ones you are talking about) so rust won't be an issue.
  9. eyore

    eyore TS Rookie Topic Starter

    Sorry for the uber late reply. Stuff came up, so...

    Thanks for the glossary and the patience trying to explain the ABC's to a newbie. :)

    Follow-up: in storing electronics (and with electronics in general), do you have to watch out for insects (ants? Termites? Bees? Anything else I'm missing?) turning them into a nest? Getting one or two in your working laptop is fine (right?), and I know of someone who one day found lots of dead insects in their game console (playstation? xbox?)--told me they probably died because of the heat, but wouldn't that wreck the thing? Are game consoles able to stand that better than laptops?

    What about insecticides, termite treatment chemicals, etc.? Would they affect the computer parts? Any precautions or notes you have to take regarding spaces/rooms you're storing them in, and also rooms you're working on the junk art in? Say, would it be safe to leave materials in a room that's going to be treated/sprayed for bugs? Would it be safe to work on the junk art (doing all the cutting, pasting, etc.) before or after?
  10. eyore

    eyore TS Rookie Topic Starter

    Follow-up: I just read my entry and, um, rather embarrassed I haven't been as clear as I'd thought. My place is up for termite treatment and am worried about the discarded computer parts I'd mentioned, and the working electronics I have, being affected by whatever they're going to use. Also the rooms I do the junk art in. Is it fine to work on the junk art (just in case it's important: cutting flash drives for keychains, etc., but with scissors) even shortly before and after the fumigation? What other things do I have to keep in mind with termite treatment and insecticides in general? If you're using power tools, would there be any extra precautions for the dust and debris they're going to produce?
  11. mailpup

    mailpup TS Special Forces Posts: 7,306   +577

    What kind of termite treatment? If it's gas with tenting, it won't affect your electronics. If it is orange oil, it shouldn't get near your equipment. For certain items don't they tell you to enclose it in plastic. For answers to your specific questions you should call the pest control company company since they have vast experience in these matters.
  12. eyore

    eyore TS Rookie Topic Starter

    Wasn't informed, unfortunately, and only been informed after the appointment was made (don't own the place), and they're coming, in fact, today or any day now. We weren't given any special instructions, from what I know. I think someone was told to be in the same room as the pest control people. That's why I wanted to gather info.
  13. mailpup

    mailpup TS Special Forces Posts: 7,306   +577

    Although it might be too late now, what I'm saying is you should be proactive and find out what pest control company is coming and call them for information. As an alternative check pest control websites and see what they recommend.
    learninmypc likes this.
  14. eyore

    eyore TS Rookie Topic Starter

    Yeah, did that. Talked to the pest control people themselves, though, not on the phone. They're using Hovex and said it wouldn't cause problems with computer parts and junk art dust/debris, before or after. Just to cover food and plates and the like.
  15. SNGX1275

    SNGX1275 TS Forces Special Posts: 10,545   +429

    Just as I said earlier, if you are going to be cutting with a saw, you probably want a dust mask. The boards are made out of fiberglass and you should try to avoid inhaling that. In reality, a lot of people handle actual fiberglass insulation without a mask, while it isn't the smartest thing, unless they do that for a living I'm sure they aren't having any negative health effects. Unless I was cutting a ton of boards I would probably just do my best to not inhale (hold my breath) the dust while I'm sawing, but that is just me - if I'm giving advice my above posts about trying to do it outside, or at least wear a dust mask still stand.
  16. eyore

    eyore TS Rookie Topic Starter

    Okay, thanks again.

    Another follow-up, sorry: about batteries this time. What's the best way to store laptop batteries (I'm talking old compaq presario 2500 batteries)? And batteries for newer models (assuming batteries have changed since then? Asus eepcs and those ultra-thin models nowadays? I heard that it's really not good for them to get wet and to be exposed to extreme heat (what is extreme heat? I'm assuming anything hotter than a laptop is extreme heat?). Can they handle being in drawers of rooms that do get hot? Can they be stored in things like carboard boxes, cloth bags, wooden anythings or in laptop bags, etc?
    Last edited: Jun 24, 2014
  17. SNGX1275

    SNGX1275 TS Forces Special Posts: 10,545   +429

    Honestly, I would get rid of batteries. Nothing good can come from storing them and a lot of bad things can happen (even though its rare). You won't be able to use them in your art, and dismantling lithium batteries can be dangerous.

    To answer your questions though, I would say extreme heat is anything over 49C/120F. Wouldn't matter what you stored them in as long as the terminals are taped so they can't short out accidentally.
  18. eyore

    eyore TS Rookie Topic Starter

    Oh, no. Not using them for art. But I can't get rid of them for now for the moment, so I will have to store them until I can find the time. I'd heard horror stories regarding batteries exploding while charging/being used while charging or just because, overheating, emitting toxic fumes because of exploding and/or moisture corroding them, all of them really just jumbled into this massive neon warning sign of Batteries Are Dangerous. Some I'm sure aren't true, but the explosions definitely. Right?

    Also, is leaving cellphones and laptops in an area exposed to sunlight for a long time dangerous?
  19. SNGX1275

    SNGX1275 TS Forces Special Posts: 10,545   +429

    I would at least put them in a cardboard box if it is going to be long term storage. For battery storage, just tape the terminals and check on them for swelling/leaking (depending on battery type) occasionally.

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