The Plater and Pollution - The 18th William Blum Lecture
This article is a re-publication of the 18th William Blum Lecture, by Dr. Joseph B. Kushner, presented at the 64th AES Annual Convention in Los Angeles, California, on June 27, 1977.
Joseph B. Kushner
Kushner Electroplating School
Anaheim, California, USA
Recipient of the 1976 William Blum
AES Scientific Achievement Award
Editor’s Note: Originally published as Plating & Surface Finishing, 64 (8), 24-26, 28, 30 (1977), this article is a re-publication of the 18th William Blum Lecture, presented at the 64th AES Annual Convention in Los Angeles, California, on June 27, 1977. Only excerpts from the lecture were published, but the material available did cover the major portions of his talk. A printable PDF version is available by clicking HERE.
The First Job - How Dr. Kushner became interested in plating rinse waters
Besides being a renowned expert in the field of electroplating, Dr. Joseph B. Kushner was also a colorful personality who had a flair for telling interesting stories. Before he launched into the technical discussion as the year's William Blum lecturer, he delighted the audience with his account of how he became involved in the electroplating business and why he became interested in plating rinse waters.
Dr. Kushner's first break into electroplating came in 1934 when he was a fresh chemical engineering graduate of the Cooper Union Institute of Technology. He went to work for a costume jewelry house that he recalls as being typical of those days.
"Unfortunately, that shop was also typical of some of the shops you see today!" exclaims Dr. Kushner. "Soaking wet floors, slippery wooden duckboards, steaming, unventilated tanks of plating solutions, acid dips and cyanide, the kind of lighting you could go blind with. The place was loaded with wall-to-wall OSHA violations!" He had high hopes, however, that they'd soon recognize his talents and set him up with a chemical laboratory.
His hopes were quickly doused, as the "trusted employee" who was assigned to teach him a great deal was more interested in guarding his own position. He confined young Kushner to dipping, rinsing and shaking while he made up the gold solutions behind closed doors.
After about three months, the president of the company put young Kushner on a special investigative assignment: to find out why the company was using more gold than it should. That's where Dr. Kushner's interest in plating rinse waters actually began. He carefully studied the entire plating operation and singled out the dragout crock as the culprit.
"Everything that was gold plated was first dipped into that crock," says Dr. Kushner, "and I noticed that the color of the solution in the crock was just about that of the gold plating solution itself. Since I had never seen that water changed in the few months I was there, I realized the gold plating bath was going down the sewer via the dragout tank. For me, it was like Columbus discovering America."
His attempts to do a thorough dragout study were thwarted by the "trusted employee" who ran immediately to the president and complained Kushner was holding up production.
When the president questioned Kushner about his findings, Kushner replied, "Well, I haven't made any calculations yet, but I would say theoretically you could be losing as much as maybe 50 ounces of gold a year."
The president didn't relish this revelation. "Fifty ounces! We're losing more than ten times that! Kushner, you're fired!"
Although Kushner's ideals had been trampled on, he soon met a gold refiner and convinced him that there was a gold mine in prepared gold plating solutions and salts for commercial applications. He was signed on for a glorious salary of $35 per week and he waived all patent rights to develop and produce salts and solutions.
"My first result was 'Robinson's Assayed Gold Plating Solution,' which was the forerunner, as old-timers will recall, of all the commercial gold plating solutions. I made the discoveries and developments and Robinson made the money," Dr. Kushner sighs.
Occasionally, virtue does get its own reward, however, Dr. Kushner learned through the grapevine why his former employer used so much gold; the "trusted employee," when mixing up the gold solutions behind closed doors, each time cut off some gold for himself. When it was discovered that most of the missing gold didn't go down the drain but instead went in the pocket of the "trusted employee," he became a former employee, too.