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Avoiding “Fume Fever”

Welding

Imagine you just finished up a day on the job, welding Galvanized Steel. You head home, shower up, and grab a beer as you settle in to watch the game on the tube. But then you start to feel kind of gross. Your legs start to ache, you become really thirsty with a blazing dry throat, and you start coughing and become congested, shivering all over. Things get worse from there as you spike a fever, feel nauseous and start throwing up. At the height of this two-day nightmare ride, you even hallucinate and experience convulsions.

Is this the worse flu ever? Nope—you’ve just been hit by Fume Fever. It’s pretty nasty stuff, but totally preventable and fortunately, it’s not currently linked to any long-term health problems.

Galvanized Steel is coated with a thin layer of zinc, and zinc melts at a much lower rate than steel, so when you’re welding Galvanized Steel, the zinc coating is vaporized and turns into zinc oxide. When you breath-in zinc oxide fumes, you develop what is commonly known as Fume Fever. This usually happens 1-4 hours after exposure and typically lasts for 1-2 days.

The good news is these nasty side-effects are totally preventable.

  • Proper ventilation in your work area is the first, and most effective way to prevent the inhalation of zinc oxide fumes. Most shops and industrial complexes have effective ventilation and air filtration systems in-place, and outdoor job sites are generally not a problem, as fumes dissipate naturally outside.
  • If you’re working in a confined or unventilated work area, wear an approved respirator. Varying types of respirators are available, and the level of fumes you’re exposed to will dictate the type of respirator you need for a particular job.

**Never eat, drink or smoke in an area contaminated by zinc oxide or any welding fumes.

***Always wash your hands thoroughly after you finish welding, and definitely before you eat—zinc oxide can be extremely poisonous if ingested!

Dylan Brown

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