A Study on VA Benefits: Health Effects of Welding Fumes — Contributing Factors

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When looking into the health effects of welding fumes, it is important to realize that there are other contributing factors to the welding processes that cause health problems.  Welding does not only involve working with the metals themselves. Welding also includes the use of filler agents or fluxes.

Fluxes are chemical cleaning agents, flowing agents or purifying agents. In high-temperature mental joining processes (such as welding, brazing and soldering), the primary purpose of a flux is to prevent oxidation of the base and filler agents. Some fluxes (such as borax, hydrochloric acid and zinc chloride) have serious health effects if welders are exposed to them for long periods of time.

Common examples of fluxes include:

The following tables list the various health effects caused by exposure to welding fumes and gases.

Health Effects of Fumes

Aluminum Alloys: Inconels, copper, zinc, steel, magnesium brass, filler materials Respiratory Irritant
Beryllium Hardening agent found in copper, magnesium, aluminum alloys and electrical contacts Metal Fume Fever – a carcinogen
Cadmium Oxides Stainless steel containing cadmium or plate material, zinc alloy Irritation of respiratory system, sore and dry throat, chest pain, breathing difficultyChronic effects: kidney damage, emphysema, suspected carcinogen
Chromium Stainless steel, high alloy materials, welding rods Lung cancer, skin irritationHexavalent chromium is a carcinogen
Copper Alloys such as Monel, brass, bronze, some welding rods Acute effects: irritation of eyes, nose, throat, nausea, metal fume fever
Fluorides Common electrode coating, flux material for high & low alloy steels Acute effects: irritation of eyes, nose, throatLong-term exposures: bone/joint problems
Iron Oxide Major contaminant in all iron or steel welding processes Siderosis (benign form of lung disease), irritation of nose & lungs
Lead Solder, brass and bronze alloys, primer/coating on steels Chronic effects to nervous system, kidneys, digestive system, mental capacity
Manganese Most welding processes, especially high-tensile steels Metal Fume Fever, central nervous system problems
Nickel Stainless steel, Iconel, Monel, Hastelloy, other high-alloy material Irritation of eyes, nose, throat. Increased cancer risk. Dermatitis, lung problems
Vanadium Steel alloys, iron stainless steel, nickel alloys Chronic effects: bronchitis, retinitis, fluid in lungs, pneumonia
Zinc oxides Galvanized and painted metal Metal Fume Fever

Source: Occupation Health & Safety

Health Effects of Gases

Carbon monoxide Formed in the arc Absorbed readily in bloodstream, causing dizziness, headaches or muscular weakness. High concentrations may result in unconsciousness or death
Hydrogen Fluoride Decomposition of rod coatings Overexposure can cause kidney, lung, bone and liver damageChronic exposure: chronic irritation of nose, throat, bronchi
Nitrogen oxide Formed in the arc Chronic effects: lung problems such as emphysema
Ozone Formed in the arc, especially plasma-arc, MIG and TIG processes Acute effects: fluid in lungs, hemorrhagingChronic effects: significant changes in lung function

Source: Occupation Health & Safety

Health Effects of Acids

Hydrochloric Acid Used as a flux for soldering, welding, brazing Has a corrosive effect; damage to respiratory organs, eyes, skin, intestines
Zinc Chloride Used as a flux for soldering, welding, brazing Skin & respiratory irritant; concentrations are corrosive & acidic
Borax Used as a flux for soldering, welding, brazing Skin & respiratory irritant; nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain; headaches, lethargy. Severe poisoning: unconsciousness, respiratory depression, renal failure

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