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Q & A: What are the health hazards of CA glue?
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Q: CA glue:

Woodturning is a hobby I love. I took it up when I retired about 15 years ago. During my annual physical we discovered indications of a possible problem with my bladder. After further testing, two cystoscopies, and a biopsy of my bladder, we now know that I have a very early (and fortunately treatable) bladder cancer. In fact we meet with the VA doctors next Monday to review the pathology report and determine the course of treatment.

During the pre-op physical, the nurse asked me a number of questions:

  • “Do you smoke?" (the single biggest cause of bladder cancer). “No, except for an occasional cigar on my annual Canadian fishing trip."
  • She asked, “Have you ever taken drugs?" “No, never.”
  • She asked, "Have you been around toxic chemicals?” (the second highest cause of bladder cancer). “No” was my answer.

Late that night I awoke from a deep sleep recognizing that my answer regarding the chemicals was not correct. For 15 years I have been using CA glue and a variety of finishes which contain some nasty chemicals. I have always worn latex gloves and brought in fresh air when using CA glue and the various finishes I’ve used, but I know from time to time I have gotten a whiff of the CA fumes. So I’m asking myself, have I worn the best gloves to protect myself from these chemicals? Have I done everything possible not to breathe in any of the toxic fumes from CA glue and the finishes. Have I been too lax in this area of shop safety while paying more attention to the other aspects of woodturning safety?

We will never know if this was the cause of my cancer but I hope it can serve as a reminder to my fellow woodturners to understand the dangers and take proper precautions in this important aspect of shop safety.

~ Jim, AAW member

A: CA Glue  

It is an unfortunate situation about Jim's bladder cancer, but the likelihood of cyanoacrylate adhesives being the causative agent of his bladder cancer is fairly low. CA glues normally are considered lacrymators (inducing tears and excessive tearing through conjunctival irritation), and CA is known to be a respiratory irritant (which is why increased ventilation is recommended with its use). It is not known to be a carcinogen. (No mention of this in the MSDS for cyanoacrylate adhesives.) It probably is most dangerous for its physical effects of gluing body parts together, or worse, getting uncured glue in the eye. The exothermic (heat generating) reaction CA glue also produces as it rapidly cures can also cause first and second degree burns (blistering of skin) under glue-curing conditions on the skin (I have personally experienced a blistering burn from CA curing on the skin).

~ Rob Wallace PhD, Iowa State University, Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology. Rob is a board member of Ames Area Woodturners and past AAW board member.


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