In manufacturing, when there is a need to join two pieces or parts of metal together, welding is the process most often used. According to industry experts, metalwork is labor-intensive and accounts for between 80 and 90% of large project production costs, aside from highly automated processes. Those projects are typically in the ship-building, mining, metallurgical, and transport equipment industries, among several others.
However, one of the unfortunate drawbacks of welding is the fumes and gases produced by the process. Many cases of acute poisoning due to overexposure to fumes have been recorded. That’s because these toxic fumes contain compounds like aluminum, nickel, and hexavalent chromium, all of which are very harmful to human health. For that reason, many people wonder, “What are the most common compounds in welding fumes?”
Hexavalent chromium is found in welding fumes produced when working with stainless steel. Shielded metal arc welding (SMAW) produces up to 4X the amount of this toxic compound. It is a well-known lung cancer carcinogen and can be very harmful even after short-term exposure. More commonly, it’s known to cause short-term and lifelong respiratory issues.
Nickel is also found in fumes associated with stainless steel welding and can cause skin irritation (dermatitis). Furthermore, it may present harm to other extremities, like the eyes, the nose, and the throat. The best way to prevent nickel exposure is with personal protective gear.
Mild steel welding fumes contain iron oxide, which is known to cause a benign lung disease called siderosis. In turn, siderosis can cause irritation of the lungs and nasal passages. While it’s not the most life-threatening toxin within the welding industry, it will significantly lower your quality of life.
Manganese is also a byproduct of welding mild steel, and it’s very harmful to inhale. Exposure can cause manganism, a condition very similar to Parkinson’s disease. Signs of manganism include tremors, facial muscle spasms, and difficulty walking. Less common symptoms include irritation and hallucinations. Other potential ailments may affect your lungs, liver, and kidney.
Zinc oxide is found in the fumes of welded, galvanized steel. Inhalation of this toxin may cause symptoms similar to the flu, including chills, fever, nausea, etc. This condition is known as metal fume fever, and can also cause problems breathing due to decreased lung function.
Copper and Aluminum
Certain types of metals will have copper in their fumes, which is known to irritate the eyes, nose, and throat. Welding some metals can also produce aluminum in the fumes, which can irritate the respiratory system and has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease. These toxins are very harmful to humans, so it’s best to outfit your warehouse with fume extractors to minimize the risks.
With this information, you’ll never have to wonder, “What are the most common compounds in welding fumes?” Hexavalent chromium is the most prevalent toxin; however, the toxins present depend on the metal you weld with. Always ensure you are educated on the risks of metalwork, and make sure to take every precaution to keep yourself and others safe.