Welding fumes are a complex mixture of metals that vary in composition based on the components of the base metal, coatings and/or filler materials and the temperatures used in the welding process. Adverse health effects associated with welding fumes include short-term illnesses and illnesses resulting from long-term exposure.
Coatings and paints left on the metal surface, residual solvents used to clean the metal surfaces, shielding gases, and gases produced from the metal oxides and welding arcs all are potential health threats ranging from irritation of the throat, eyes, ears, and nose to conditions that are immediately dangerous to life.
Acute effects (short-term exposure):
- Irritation of the eyes, nose and throat: Gases and fine particles in welding fume can cause dryness of the throat, tickling, coughing or a tight chest. The effects tend to be short lived.
Pulmonary oedema: Extreme exposure to ozone can cause pulmonary oedema (fluid on the lungs).
Poisoning/ asphyxia: Inhaling welding fumes can lead to poisoning, a condition in which you become weak and develop anemia (a low red blood cell count).
Metal fume fever, is an illness caused primarily by exposure to certain fumes. Workers breathe in fumes from chemicals such as, which are created by heating or welding certain metals, particularly galvanized steel. The symptoms are nonspecific but are generally flu-like including fever, chills, nausea, headache, fatigue, muscle aches, joint pains, shortness of breath, chest pain, and cough.
Chronic effects (long-term exposure):
Chronic bronchitis is chronic inflammation and irritation of the bronchial tree.
Rhinitis is irritation and inflammation of the mucous membrane inside the nose. A variety of substances cause rhinitis.
Pneumoconiosis (siderosis or welder's lung) is an occupational illness. Pneumoconiosis diseases are all caused by the inhalation of welding fumes which is retained in the lungs. In the case of Welder’s Lung, the disease results from the inhalation of iron particles. For example, if a welder is dealing with metals containing iron, than he or she might breathe in these particles which are often emitted in the welding fumes.
Central nervous system or digestive system involvement: The nervous system, kidneys, digestive system and mental capacity may be affected due to the exposure to lead, manganese or cadmium oxides.
Skin or mucous lesions: Repeated or prolonged overexposure can damage the mucous membranes of the nasal passages and cause ulcers to form. In some cases the damage is so severe that the septum (the wall separating the nasal passages) develops a hole. Skin exposure to hexavalent chromium over prolonged periods can cause ulcers to form. Some workers develop an allergic sensitization to chromium. In sensitized workers, contact with even very tiny amounts can cause a serious skin rash.
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