Making things is one of the things people do best. That doesn’t mean there are no challenges involved. There can even be dangers. For centuries, “mad as a hatter” has been used to refer to people who were mentally disturbed. The usage came from the fact that hatters — people working in hat factories — absorbed mercury through their skins and often suffered from mercury poisoning.
Mercury, a heavy metal used in the production of felt for hats in the 18th and 19th centuries, is a very toxic substance. It can quickly cause pain and irritation of the skin, and long-term exposure can lead to slurred speech, problems with vision and hearing, inability to maintain balance, memory loss, and eventually dementia.
Danbury, Connecticut, the former hat-making capital of the world, still has high levels of mercury in the soil near the former hat factories, even though the use of mercury for hatmaking became illegal in Connecticut in 1940. The town is memorialized in another expression, less common: “Danbury shakes.” Workers exposed to mercury in the Danbury factories had hand tremors, slurred speech, and mental confusion — all the signs of mercury poisoning, but these symptoms were often mistaken for drunkenness.
We’re more careful with toxic chemicals now, and more concerned about workers’ safety, but factories still use hazardous chemicals. From ammonia to sulfuric acid, toxic chemicals are part of many manufacturing processes. In fact, automation is often used to shield human workers from dangerous working conditions, including exposure to hazardous materials.
This means that your machinery might be in contact with dangerous chemicals. If so, you should think twice about opening it up and messing with it.
That doesn’t mean that your components can’t be repaired. It’s just information that should be taken into account when you plan for repair or replacement of units. If your components have been in contact with hazardous materials, you should send a copy of your MSDS (Material Safety Datasheet) to anyone you choose for repairs.