What is Carbon Black

American Heritage Dictionary: “Carbon black: A finely divided form of carbon derived from the incomplete combustion of hydrocarbons and used principally in rubber, inks, paints and polishes.”

Carbon black, also once commonly known as lamp black or furnace black, has many commercial uses. Tire manufacturers nowadays incorporate carbon black into rubber as a coloring agent and to reflect heat away from a tire’s tread and its inner structural composition. As a black pigment, carbon black finds its way into inks, paints and such products as the toner used in some printers. Manufacturers of electrical wiring also use it as an insulating agent. In structure, carbon black resembles graphite.

Carbon black originally found use in paints and dyes because of its attribute of almost totally excluding light. A painter wanting a jet black would use carbon black to deepen shadow areas of his or her work. The carbon black used then traditionally came from charred bone material or wood (or heavy woody vines) or, as lamp black, from collected soot of oil or kerosene lamps. Many artists today prefer these sources of carbon black. If you have ever come in contact with the soot of a lamp chimney, you understand the coloring intensity of carbon black. Today, of course, manufacurers for the most part rely on more efficent means for producing carbon black.

Carbon black unfortunately can have certain undesirable effects on the environment and on those whose jobs or lifestyles include close acquaintance with it. Inhaling carbon black, especially over a long period of time, can have a decidedly deleterious impact on the lungs and irritate the eyes, nose and throat of the individual as well. Carbon black also may become a part of harmful atmospheric contaminants due to the incomplete combustion of gasoline and diesel fuels in automobiles and of coal in coal-burning facilities. As with other contaminants, carbon black may increase the incidence of cancer for those long exposed to it.

Apologetically, on the humorous side, a personal note: A few years back, while working as a printer for a weekly newspaper, the author overheard their boss reply to an ink salesman touting the merits of a particular black ink: “All you’ve done is added lamp black to that ink.”

While the properties of carbon black will continue to make it a valuable component of today’s societal and manufacturing needs, its use requires judicious monitoring of the possible repercussions of its use.