What is Welding Fume Exposure?

Exposure to welding fumes

In welding, two materials are joined together by melting a metal workpiece and a filler. As a result, a strong joint is formed. However, the welding process causes visible smoke production that contains hazardous gas by-products and metal fumes. Anyone who experiences welding fume exposure may be at risk of different health issues.

In this post, you will get more familiar with what welding fume exposure is all about.

Welding Fume Exposure Overview 

As the name suggests, welding fume exposure is a type of exposure to very small particles formed when a vaporized metal condenses in the air. These metal fumes are often too small to be seen by the naked eye. However, they form a visible plume.

Exposure to welding fume is associated with different health effects depending on the particular metals present in the fumes. These health-associated effects range from short-term conditions like metal fume fever to long-term damage such as neurological disorders.

Health Issues Caused by Welding Health Fume Exposure 

When someone is exposed to welding fumes, they are also exposed to a variety of metals, such as manganese, lead, beryllium, arsenic, and aluminum. Carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, argon, and hydrogen fluoride gases are also produced during the welding process.

Welding fume exposure causes serious health problems if inhaled. Below are the different fume types and consequences once anyone is exposed to them:

Aluminum

Welding fumes contain aluminum components such as fillers, brass, magnesium, steel, zinc, and copper. It can cause respiratory irritation when inhaled.

Beryllium 

This fume refers to a hardening agent found in electrical contacts, aluminum alloys, magnesium, and copper. It may cause metal fume fever and other long-term effects, including lung damage.

Cadmium Oxides 

These fumes are zinc alloys and stainless steel containing coated materials and cadmium. Shortness of breath, chest pain, dry throat, and respiratory irritation are some of the health effects. Chronic effects include emphysema and renal failure.

Chromium

Chromium is mostly high-alloy materials and stainless steel. It is also used as a coating material. The health risks of exposure to it include an increased risk of lung cancer, and some people may develop skin irritation.

Copper 

Copper alloys contain bronze, monel, and brass that are commonly found in some welding rods. Chronic effects include metal fume fever, nausea, and eyes, nose, and throat irritation.

Fluorides 

Fluoride is a flux material and an electrode coating for low- and high-alloy steel sheets. Eye, nose, and throat irritation are the severe effects, while chronic exposures may lead to joint and bone problems. Some individuals may also experience other chronic effects, such as fluid retention in the lungs.

Iron Oxides 

These metal fumes are the primary contaminants in all steel or iron welding processes. They can cause Siderosis; a lung disease resulted from deposited carcinogens in the lungs. Nose and respiratory irritation are some of the severe symptoms. Meanwhile, these symptoms stop when metal fume exposure stops.

Lead

This fume contains brass, solder, and bronze alloys. It causes long-term health effects on the digestive system, kidneys, mental capacity, and nervous system. Some individuals may experience lead poisoning.

Manganese 

In most cases, manganese is used welding process, particularly the high-tensile steels. It leads to metal fume fever. Long-term health effects include issues with the central nervous system.

Molybdenum 

This fume contains nickel alloys, stainless steel, iron, and steel alloys. Severe health effects include shortness of breath and eye, nose, and throat irritation.

Nickel

Nickel is an alloy of some Hastelloy, Monel, Inconel, and stainless steel. It is also found in coated steel, welding rods, and high-alloys. Eye, nose, and throat irritation and increased risk of cancer are some of the severe effects. It is also associated with respiratory problems and dermatitis.

Vanadium 

This fume type is an alloy of nickel, stainless steel, iron, and some steel. It causes eyes, skin, and respiratory tract irritation. Chronic effects include pneumonia, retinitis, and bronchitis.

Zinc

Zinc refers to the painted galvanized metal and causes metal fume fever.

How to Reduce Welding Fume Exposure 

The amount of each fume type someone inhales depends on several factors, including local ventilation, area ventilation, welding position, and welding amperage. Don’t worry; there are several ways how to minimize the exposure to welding fume aside from using a welding fume extractor, including:

  • Regular cleaning of welding surfaces;
  • For indoor welding, use a local exhaust ventilation system;
  • Always wear respiratory protection gear;
  • Do not weld in a space with no ventilation.

Conclusion 

Welding fume exposure is hazardous to someone’s health, especially those who perform welding processes for long hours. Prolonged exposure to hazardous welding fumes causes lung damage and different types of cancers, such as urinary tract, larynx, and lung. Plus, the severity of the negative health effects depends on several factors.

That is why if you are vulnerable to welding fume exposure, ensure to follow several ways to minimize the exposure. As much as possible, stay away from hazardous substances in welding fumes.