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I Forge Iron

Scrap art hazards


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I apologise if this is not the right forum for this discussion but I am wondering how you guys who do scrap art get on with welding some of the different metals we come across.
We have all experienced the toxicity of zinc oxide from welding galvanised stuff. Any gal pieces I want to use in my sculptures get a bath in HCl first. But some of the fumes that come off chrome-moly spanners, some high tensile steels, stuff with nickel coatings etc are a bit suspect and I wonder if they compromise our health.
I have an exhaust fan which helps, although I think it exhausts the argon from the mig too. You can't fit a respirator under the welding mask and I'm not sure those small particle masks exclude gaseous fumes.
(And contrary to popular belief, drinking heaps of milk doesn't cure the headaches from a dose of zinc poisoning from welding gal. Not for me anyway.)
So what do you do to protect yourself??

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I have two ceiling fans in my shop that I run on low when using the mig with argon. it normally .displaces the cloud that forms around me.  If I use flux core, I turn them on high. Normally use just a filtered mask, and hold my breath until I pass out.  (Just Kidding) when I am welding suspicious stuff.

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Of all the nasty stuff a person can poison themselves with welding, cutting, etc. zinc is probably one of the least dangerous. I'm not saying you can't do yourself serious harm breathing zinc oxide smoke, enough or a sensitivity to it and it can kill. Zinc however is a necessary nutrient, without it we wouldn't last very long, so our bodies metabolize it and use it. Regardless, do NOT breath the smoke. Small exposures are tolerable and no, drinking milk will not cure the blue flu. Drink a little milk BEFORE you expose yourself and it will help by exciting the mucous membranes into high production. We all know how our mouth gets with a sip of milk. Mucous helps trap the smoke before it gets to your lungs but that's all, it just helps.


The really BAD stuff though is the chrome, cadmium among others. These two are to the best of my knowledge the worst, both are cancer producing, they don't increase the risk of cancer, they cause it. Cad is really nasty stuff, outright VERY toxic in addition.


Keep it ALL off you. A quicky technique I use is to make sure the breeze is from the side. this takes it away by the more direct route. If the breeze comes from behind it will eddy and carry the fumes directly into your face. You're WAY better off with the breeze blowing from your front, it still eddies around but enters your shield from the back. Not good but a little better.


A down draft welding table might be a good answer, something that draws the smoke DOWN into the table and away from the shop. I like down draft tables but I don't know if I'd trust one welding or cutting really toxic materials.


There are filters designed for specific hazards and they're are reasonably effective. You have to be freshly shaved of course or NO mask is going to be much protection. Unless, it's a full face mask WITH hood.


A supplied air breathing system is about the only thing that will protect you completely. It still has to fit, be air tight and used properly but used correctly they work well. I have a 3M Whitecap II supplied air welding helmet. An yes, it actually IS a helmet. It's a major PITA to use though, I got it for really nasty work. The thing's like wearing a space helmet with air conditioning I might add but it's still heavy, awkward and limits visibility, it does however keep everything you don't want out of your lungs.


This is a subject that's been discussed before and it should be near the top of the discussion list, it's really important.


Frosty The Lucky.

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Top notch information. A lot of the time I work by myself in the shop so I
make safety top priority every day on every job. I remember years ago while
employed at another shop sitting through hours upon hours of safety meetings.
We had a perfect safety record for years.
All of the money they spent for us to sit there for hours was only peanuts
compared to an on the job injury,workers comp claim or a casualty.
Safety can't be drilled into our thick skulls enough no matter how many
times its discussed.

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Sodium and potassium are both essential to the working of our bodies; however in their metallic form they will not be metabolized!


I ingest chlorine every day---but not in it's gaseous form. I prefer the mix with another poison---(NaCl)


The method and means of exposure can be the difference between life and a very nasty death!

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Metal Fumes Are No Fun.    And once you are afflicted enough to go to the Emergency Room,  You are very likely to catch something that will just take advantage of you're weakened body.  Heed the advice of the posts above and do More research about safety and know the materials you are working with.


I use one of these face masks  (Now):



With this filter for welding:   It is very big/heavy and doesn't fit under my welding hood, so I end up holding my hood in front of my face most of the time.  I don't weld much any more, so this doesn't concern me much.   If I can find a nice pair of welding goggles, I'd use them with a cotton pillowcase over my head.



And This Filter for other normal work like grinding, or even forging.




Many things you can get from a hardware store are plated these days, especially nuts and bolts.  Many are zinc plated, but many also have cadmium plating as well, such as some Grade 8 Bolts.   Not stuff you want in your body.  Cadmium has a half-life is something like 10 years in the body.  And I believe people have been afflicted when working with stainless, due to the Chromium. Again, do your research.  


I Don't Go Near Anything I even think is plated anymore.  Or even painted.  Some old scrap may be painted, and if you don't know how old that scrap is, it may be painted with Old Paint that may contain lead.   It's tempting to do that quick tack weld without grinding/removing all that old paint off.    It's not Worth it.


If I were to build a new shop (Wish I Could),  I'd invest in the best Exhaust/Ventilation and Dust Collection System I could afford.   I dare say, if there was a 500 lb anvil and a Dust Collection System sitting side by side for the same price,  I'd get the Ventilation system first.   I'd cry over the anvil,  but that can be found again, but new lungs don't come around so easy.  Unless you are a decrepit old Billionaire of course,  then you could afford to have some grown on the backs of goats or something (Science these days).   I don't think we are all that lucky.


Also, consider your environment and those that may be near by.  Just because you may have a $1000 welding hood, doesn't mean a passerby or pets or loved ones near  by have one if you are working from a home environment.      I often worry about latent dust that has settled after the work has been done.   To my understanding something like zinc, when welded, turns into a Metallic Mist/Vapor.  Which would mean that the particulates become airborne and if not carried away, would then settle on the surfaces available.   What I mean is that you might be subject to such harmful substances after the work has been done, or say during clean-up, or on your way out when you take the respirator off.


Anyway, I'll quit rambling and just say that you should invest in the best safety systems you can afford, especially if you are dealing with questionable materials.



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Thanks for all replies. This is a lot more serious a subject than I had thought. I'm going to investigate one of those respirators that fit under the welding helmet. I don't know if they are available in Australia but if not, I'll try the Millers one (Canada?)
The tendency is to be a bit blase about this, but as you point out, it needs to be taken seriously. I appreciate the advice.

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Powered respirators are nice if you make your living welding all day every day, but are a bit much $$$ for most starving artists who only weld a few hours per week to justify the expense. Many of the better companies buy them for all the welders on the shop floor, but they never go home with you.


Still, most of my students spend hundreds of dollars a month on smartphones, net access, movie and music downloads, etc. and never think twice about the cost. But expect them to buy even a cheap auto-darkening hood and respirator for their use out of their own pocket, and you would think I asked them for a kidney.

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Respirators are all well and good, but protective gear should always be the last line of defense. It should be a suppliment to - never a replacement for - what are called "engineering controls." Examples include the exhaust systems described in this thread.

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The correct filter for welding fume is a N or P100 particulate filter. Not an organic vapor or any other vapor filter. I like


These are HEPA rated and are the right type as well as being very low profile and easy to draw air thru.


The best mask? That depends.

Best for how much money?

Best for what shape of face?

Best for a person with facial hair?


For me since my face is fairly regular size/shape I use a standard half face mask, that was properly fit tested and I do a quick check every time I don the mask.


Keep the mask in a Tupperware container snapped tight, keeps the critters and dust out.

Disassemble and wash in warm soapy water regulary

DO NOT use alcohol wipes to clean attacks the rubber parts in many masks.

ptree the EHS guy

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