Welding fumes are a hazardous byproduct of the welding process. Welding can produce an array of toxic fumes that contain pollutants such as lead, arsenic, and mercury. This blog post will explore why welding fume exposure is hazardous and what steps you can take if you suspect your welders may be exposed at work or home.
1. Microscopic particles
Welding fumes contain microscopic particles, sometimes called “droplets,” that carry chemicals with them when they are released into the air. These droplets go deep in your lungs and absorb rapidly in the bloodstream. Some of these particles can cause unrepairable damage to your respiratory system and heart. Scientists have linked welding fumes to cancer, asthma, and other respiratory diseases.
2. Metal Oxides
Welding fumes contain metal oxides that are created when metals become hot enough to burn off the surrounding air. Metals can also release contaminants into the air without being burned, which you inhale along with the welding fume particles. The most common metal oxides in welding fumes are manganese, lead, and chromium. Therefore, it’s advised to use a welding smoke filtration
3. Flux Core Arc Welding (FCAW) Fumes
This type of welding fume is the result of generating airborne contaminants while using an automatic wire-feed welder to make steel structures or equipment. FCAW is sometimes called “MIG,” which stands for inert metal gas. This is because the welder uses a cylinder of inert argon or CO 2 gas to protect the weld area from oxygen contamination when welding galvanized steel. However, these protective gases do not prevent fumes from forming in the work area, and they add to the problem by creating additional airborne contaminants when burned off.
4. Contact and Gas Metal Arc Welding (GMAW) Fumes
Welding fumes from both of these methods are the same because they both involve burning metal to create intense heat, which releases other harmful chemicals into the air. GMAW is the most common type of welding in North America and uses a continuous wire electrode to carry the weld. Contact welding uses a short-circuiting wire electrode to carry the weld and is less common but still used in many applications. The fumes created in both processes are hazardous because they contain metal oxides and other toxic chemicals that cause disease in humans.
5. Fumes from Ground Iron
Ground iron welding fumes contain manganese because it is a component of the steel that you are welding. This type of welding creates fewer airborne contaminants than other forms, but the fumes contain higher concentrations of manganese and pose a unique health risk because you cannot see them. The metal dust from ground iron can also get in your eyes and cause severe damage to your cornea.
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6. Aluminum Welding Fumes
Aluminum is not one of the most common metals that people weld on a regular basis, but it still creates hazardous welding fume particles because of how it burns. Aluminum begins to burn before any other metal does and does not release contaminants into the air until the last stage of combustion. Aluminum welding fume particles are extremely small and remain airborne for long periods of time, which increases your chances of inhaling them.
7. MIG Welding Fumes
Welding fumes from MIG come about when the wire electrode burns off contaminants that have collected on its surface while being stored or transported to the job site. The wire electrode contaminates the air when you are welding with it, but the problem does not get any worse until you start using it. You can reduce MIG fume exposure by storing your wire electrode in a sealed container and transporting it to job sites in an airtight container to reduce airborne contaminants from collecting on its surface.
8. Plastic Gas Metal Arc Welding Fumes
Plastic Gas Metal Arc Welding fumes contain manganese and other metal oxides because they are released when burning the wire electrode. The process of creating this weld fume also releases hazardous vapors from additives in the wire electrode coating, such as zinc oxide, which helps conduct electricity to help complete the electrical.
For any welding company looking to reduce the risk of employee exposure, a little research and planning can go a long way. We hope this article has helped understand why welders are at greater risk for harm from fumes than other professionals, what factors make these exposures more hazardous, and how you can protect your employees with some simple steps that cost relatively little.