Fumes: a hazard of welding

Can you hold your breath while welding?

There is no doubt that we run into health risks every single day. As some people wryly joke, everything causes cancer in the state of California. Whether you accidentally eat a seed in an apple or you drive your car to work, you face a certain risk to your health. There are government agencies who sole purpose is to regulate and eliminate health hazards in both the home and work.

Hold Your Breath While Welding?

The welding industry is no different. All welders at some time or the other a will be exposed to welding fumes. These fumes can have some nasty side effects to be sure. A common issue related to welding is “Metal Fume Fever” which results from breathing in galvanized metal fumes as it being welded. It can cause mild to severe flu like symptoms. Zinc is the primary culprit as it is the primary component of galvanized metal. The tell-tale signs of a crusty white or yellow powdery substance along the edge of the weld indicate the presence of galvanization. Rarely does it cause anything more severe, but it can be nasty and briefly debilitating. If you suspect having metal fume fever, get medical help immediately because occasionally things can turn deadly. With that said, since it’s a necessary part of our diet, it is usually self-correcting. But other metals can be present with the Zinc, such as lead and those are the ones you need to worry about.

Hexavalent Chromium is another issue encountered with welding Stainless Steel. Breathing this may not show any immediate effects. But it is a dangerous by product of Stainless steel welding. Keep this in mind while welding anything you suspect to be stainless. Cancer, and asthma are serious side effects and may not show up until years down the road. Some people discount the potential risk, saying they have been welding stainless all their life, and nothing has happened to them. Well, not yet anyway, right? Dead people do not speak.

A related issue is the accidental or intentional use of brake cleaner, or any chloro/flouro carbon based chemical as a metal cleaner before welding. Welding on a piece of metal that was cleaned with brake cleaner releases phosgene gas, a substance used in chemical war fare. Inhaling just a drop of vaporized residue could kill you or leave you seriously sick. Usually it’s a painful death that ensues over the course of days, if not months.

There are other risks from breathing smoke and fumes from all welding processes in general. Cancer is a real risk, especially, for those who already smoke or abuse their bodies with substances. Heart attack chances can increase as well. The complete carcinogenic effects of welding may never be fully known or understood. However, breathing all welding fumes should be minimized at all times. Open areas are the best.  Having a fume hood, or fan with open windows is a good way to fend them off indoors. If you are concerned with smoke while welding, try slowing your breathing or holding your breath before you start welding. This is not fool proof by any means, but it can help minimize exposure to those who are making short welds. Yet, for some, none of these measures may be a practical solution. The welding may have to be done down in a tank where there is not any relief or escape. For many, a respirator is the only solution.  They are not cheap however, and before purchase, a little research will need to be done on compatibility with your helmet, and headgear. However, though they can be bulky and hot, a respirator might just be the thing you really need for a lifetime of worry free welding. Minimization, if not elimination to exposure is key to enjoying a long life of safe and happy welding.


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