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Galvanized, zinc, fumes, and milk

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The people posting on this site have a responsibility to pass along FACTS not rumor and folklore when it comes to health and safety issues. Milk is not an antidote for exposure to zinc fumes. Never has been and never will be. Yet, every time someone mentions exposure to zinc fumes several of these ill informed individuals pass on what "some old welder told them years ago". I think it is time for this site to make a "sticky" out of welding galvanized etc. It seems this subject comes up every couple weeks.

Metal Fume Fever and Heavy Metal Poisoning are nothing to mess with. If you think you have the symptoms SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION IMMEDIATELY. Drink the milk if you must but all it will do is quench your thirst. If you have been exposed to the fumes you are poisoned and no amount of milk will change that.

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I have nothing against milk. I agree that calcium is a good bonder of heavy metals. But it is not a substitute for clean air and keylation therapy. I had a hot head here insult me and my EMT training when I told him milk won't work. People are confusing consumption of poisons with gas intake. Even then they pump you out to remove the poison.

Too many people do not realize that as an EMT we must re-certify every 2 years, to make sure our trauma training is up to date with all the new discovery's being made. But did you know that a doctor or Nurse after getting their license in most cases does not have to take anymore classes? They can be 30 years out of school, and still OK to work! I ran into this once in a transport. We came out of the ambulance, and the small town nurse was upset we had too high a flow of O2 going into the patient face mask! She had not taken an update class since she was in college, she didn't know about 12 liters flow being standard today.

The point is: Just because you were taught a thing in the past, or heard from a doctor, does NOT mean that is current Medical Knowledge. Remember that blood letting used to be a common practice as well as drilling a hole in the skull of a mental case to release the demons.

Drink yer milk, BUT don't waste time, you must get to hospital.

Edited by steve sells
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Galvanized zinc fumes and milk
I believe this is one of the most important and responsible topics that could be brought up here at I Forge Iron.
Thank you all for taking a responsible stand on this topic!
Even if you disagree with my opinion, please error on the side of safety with this issue!

To disarm new craftsmen of the potential dangers of welding or cutting galvanize products may have a serious outcome.
I feel a great in-justice may be done to unwary readers when someone who is not fully informed about the reality of the cause and effect of Galvanized Poisoning give there untried opinion that says it’s OK, that all you have to do is just drink milk.
I think milk may help settle your stomach if I remember correctly, but what about the long term effects?

It seems as though some of the content contained in a few posts that I have read over the last few years that have mentioned the topic of “Galvanized, zinc, fumes, and milk”, have a tendency to water down the real or potential long lasting effects of Galvanize Poisoning.

They would say something like “I have welded on galvanize for 263 years and all I done was drink milk and I am just fine”.
Of course I am exaggerating. But posts like that seem to disarm the reader into thinking that it is no big deal.

BUT, galvanize poisoning is a big deal and an issue that should be taken as a priority to learn how to manage the use of it safely.

I can assure you it is a big deal because I have experienced the stark reality of the very real and long lasting problems that derive from welding or being exposed to Galvanized Steel fumes with out proper ventilation.

When I was young (in my 30’s) I needed a job real bad to support my large family that I had adopted. So when we would say something about the lack of ventilation in our shop, they told us that they had a pile of applications on the desk, that if we did not like the conditions that existed we could be replaced.

I have had to live with the outcome of this issue first hand. And it was not pretty!

So with out going into the details of a real long story, I will tell you this;
Back in the 60’s at the University of Utah hospital, when I was going through treatment they also called it “Products of Combustion that had settled the Bone Morrow” or Galvinize Poisoning. I am no doctor; I am just repeating what they told me.
Story: I was the one of the lucky ones out of the four welders who worked in our shop at that time.
Within two years, one of them died of a heart attack; he was only in his 30’s. They don’t know what caused the attack.
I lost the effective use of my left hand, arm, and leg. It took between 4

Edited by Ted T
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What happens if the person is lactose intolerant and has just been advised them to drink milk?

I am lactose intolerant, and the discomfort and need to use the bathroom pronto that arises from consuming a quantity of dairy product is nowhere near as bad as the symptoms of heavy metal poisoning or metal fume fever, so it would be easy for that person to make the decision. HOWEVER, milk does not work. SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION!
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A person's reaction to a toxic insult is relative to a lot of things, Age, Gender, Weight, Physical Condition, general health and in some cases what other chemical exposure that person has had recently. Toxicity data is based on the average person, but remember just as there is only one middle of a line no matter how long, there is only one average person in the world. Everyone else is either above average or below average.

In the case of Paw Paw Wilson, his health was already compromised by COPD. Subsequently the inhalation of zinc fumes that may have cause someone else only transient effects and limited discomfort caused medical complications that resulted in his death.

Remember: Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first,
the lesson afterward. If you fail the test chances are you won't be around for the lesson.

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I just want to thank all who had some input on this subject. I heard a variety of answers, most I am in agreement with. Having said this I wish to reply to the originator of this thread. THANK YOU ever so much for bringing this subject to our attention. Knowing that people like you are really out there watching (at least my back) peoples backs is such a good thing that even saying Thank You seems almost too shallow in way of showing appreciation. But this old fart will say it anyway... THANKS! There are a lot of nasty fumes out there while welding... and VENTILATION is KEY in defending your health. Respirators are sometimes cumbersome but USE THEM! They will save your life today and 20 years down the road after you've hung up your hood and goggles. Again... Thanks!

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This same old doctor came to the conclusion that it was dependent on an individual persons ability to resist the effects of how, and if the same amounts of exposure would effect them at all.

Getting sensitized to chemicals can be a problem. One moment nothing is wrong, and suddenly you can start getting reactions from exposure.

So far I've heard of woodworkers becoming allergic to wood dust, mechanics becoming allergic to oil, composite workers becoming allergic to polyester and epoxy resins, and I myself just had a very itchy experience working with polyurethane foam.

In most of these cases the efects only start after many years of working with the material, and with only some of these people getting affected.

A healthy dose of paranoia in this case can only be good for you.
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Chemical sensitivity is a very vague area of toxicology. In some respects it is dependent on an individuals make up. There are however, chemicals that are known to be sensitizers. Amoug them are the hardeners for two stage paints like DuPont Imron.

Like an allergy to bee stings, sensitivity to a chemical can come with repeated exposures or from a single exposure and like a bee sting, there are no symptoms from the first exposure or repeated exposures until the body becomes sensitized to the toxic substance. Once sensitized, any further exposure will result in a reaction, this can run the gamet from a simple allergic reaction to anaphalactic shock resulting in death if prompt medical treatment is not available.

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I took a lot of Agriculture Mechanics classes as electives in high school. I had been around welding my whole life, but never had any experience with galvanized. My instructor gave me a pile of pipe and asked me to make him some gates. I could weld like the wind blows-especially with the brand new Miller MIG welder and auto darkening helmet. I was welding in the back corner of the shop in an area that was not ventilated. I built six 16 foot gates and two 12 foot gates in about a hour and a half of work. I was in great physical shape at that point in my life. In fact, I had to travel that evening to an out of town basketball game-about 3 hours from home-on a school bus. Less than 2-3 hours after welding, I felt dizzy and nauseous. By the time the basketball game was over I could barely stand up. I had trouble breathing, felt like I had a D8 dozer parked on my chest, and felt like I could throw up any second. Symptoms were almost flu like. Every joint in my body ached. After riding on the darn school bus all night and fighting the urge to hurl- I finally did throw up when we got back home about 1 a.m. I continued to be sick all night and well into the weekend. I can tell you from experience, this is one mistake that I will never make again. It does not matter what type of metal/material you are heating, cutting, grinding or welding-you must operate in a WELL VENTILATED AREA and if at all possible avoid using highly hazardous materials to construct projects. In this day and age there are great resources for respirators(especially if operating in a confined area) and venting devices (simplest of which is a box fan). If you are required by your job duties to work with these materials-then in many instances your employer is required to supply or compensate you for proper PPE. OSHA/ANSI have standards covering this topic in great depth. When handling a gun-always treat it as if it is loaded-so when welding treat every metal and consumable as if it will kill you with one whiff. As with many other topics-Prevention is the best medicine.....Sorry for being long winded-but this one hits close to home for me!

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My name is Ernesto and I am new here (I am ten years old and promised my Papi I would go to bed after this). I assume that blacksmithing with galvanized steel is just as bad as welding with it. Am I right or can I blacksmith with galvanized steel (because I do find it in the dump recycling pile)? Thanks.


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Ernesto Brown (AKA ~ Nesto)
You are showing wisdom by asking about the dangers of working with galvanize steel.
Even though it may be plentiful and cheep where you live, it does not mean that it is good for you. JUST LEAVE IT IN THE DUMP!!!!!!!!
Ask your Father to help you learn more about using Galvanized steel.
It may be cheep to obtain NOW, but it may cost you a great deal LATER on in life.
I know people who will still argue that it is not a problem to work with (cutting, grinding, Welding, or using in a high heated environment).
But to process (re-work) galvanize material; it should only be done by people who are well trained and have the proper equipment and ventilation in place.
WHY TAKE THE CHANCE? In my opinion it is not worth my consideration to use galvanized steel.
Ted Throckmorton

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Nesto, I'll agree with Ted absolutely. You are showing wisdom by asking. There will be places on the internet that perhaps will give you bad advice. There will be questions that recieve answers that are not the truth. Thanks to Woody, the question of milk being a preventative medicine for galvanized exposure ( welding, cutting etc) has been properly answered. I have heard this ( drinking milk as a cure) most of my life but have never had a medical doctor give me an affirmative answer ( big word for agreeing with me) when I asked if the milk worked. Bottom line is this: Stay away from toxic fumes. Blacksmithing is a dangerous occupation if you don't practice a few simple safety rules. Unfortunately there are folks that will tell you that welding galvanized is ok ( "we've never really had a problem with it here " ). I work at such a place. People will tell you many things in life. You will get bad advise sometimes. What you have recieved here is good advise. Stay away from galvanized ( and painted or powdercoated stuff). There are plenty of pieces of bare scrap to be had. You just have to perhaps look a little harder. I have recovered from toxic fume problems more than once ( galvanized and also plasma dust ). Neither was too much fun and I am really lucky.

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Ive got a stack of 1" round foundation studs, they have a 90 degree bend in one end, are about 24" long and the other end which would stick up out of the cement is threaded and galvanized (partially dipped in zinc covering approx 6 inches).

A few points to consider
In metal casting, especially when working with remelting brass, there is considerable loss of zinc which if your aim is to maintain the alloy ratio needs to be replaced. With a melting point of 787.15F it melts and volatilizes at a far lower temperature than steel (copper, aluminum, ect).

Zinc is a trace element, bad news when volatilized and inhaled, but if widely dispersed in an environment that doesnt already have alot of zinc content, relatively benign (especially compared to toxics like cobalt, manganese, cadmium, chromium, nickel or mercury)

so... it is possible to burn off zinc without undue environmental degradation or hazard to personal and public health provided some common sense is employed. This would be an outdoor activity in a remote location. ;)

not really worthwhile if its not fairly large stock (considering the scale loss to the steel) or if there is too much coverage, which is why I pointed out the unique nature of those foundation ties

Edited by Ice Czar
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  • 4 weeks later...

Yeah, when I was twenty I got a case of zinc chills, didn't know what it was, sure caused a lit of shivering and me hugging the oil stove. At the time I was drinking a lot of milk here on the farm (made me fat too). Let me tell you, these milk stories, ain't nothin' to them.
You get the dreaded zinc chills You also get a short term immunity towards zinc. Couple of other times I got zinc chills, knew what it was then. Ain't hurt, ME NONE, me none, me none.

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Hello All
This is my first post here or on any forum, so I hope I get it right.
I've read all the above re metal fume fever and I would just like to say this...
if someone as experienced as Paw Paw Wilson can miscalculate I'd take no chances whatsoever. Straight to Emergency at the nearest hospital.

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