The finishing.com Hotline -- Serious Education ... plus the most fun you can have in metal finishing
My husband is sick from welding galvanized steel
Q. My husband was working at a plant not far from our home, he was welding galvanized steel and now he is real sick, he is coughing up a white milky film and can hardly breathe, his throat is sore, and he is wheezing and running a fever. Are these symptoms of galvanized poison? I know that his employer should have supplied respiratory masks, What can we do to prevent other people at this plant from getting sick? We have only been married for almost three months, how dangerous is this?Stephanie Shafer
- Shubert, Nebraska
A. The symptoms of metal fume fever are reportedly similar to flu, so it is certainly possible that he is suffering from metal fume fever. It's also possible that he isn't, and no one from this distance would know. A doctor needs to diagnose his situation.
Metal fume fever, if that's what it is, is reportedly a short term illness, so hopefully he's better by now.
If you are not on good enough terms with management to discuss this situation, you can call OSHA and they will inspect the situation because people should not be inhaling welding fumes. Good luck.
Differential Diagnosis of Common Medical Complaints
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey
A. A relatively simple but not cheap blood test can tell very quickly.James Watts
- Navarre, Florida
A. According to the American Welding Society (www.aws.org), who publish an excellent on-line fact sheet (number 25) on metal fume fever, "...the symptoms of the illness are headaches, fever, chills, muscle aches, thirst, nausea, vomiting, chest soreness, fatigue, gastrointestinal pain, weakness and tiredness. The symptoms usually start several hours after exposure and the attack may last between 6 and 24 hours. Complete recovery generally occurs without intervention after 24-48 hours. Metal fume fever is more likely to occur after a period away from the job (after weekends or vacations). High levels of exposure may cause a metallic or sweet taste in the mouth, dry and irritated throat, thirst and coughing at the time of exposure. Several hours after exposure, a low grade fever (seldom higher than 102 F). Then comes sweating and chills before the temperature returns to normal in 1-4 hours. If you encounter these symptoms, contact a physician and have a medical examination. There is no information on long term exposure to zinc oxide fumes." If these symptoms are what your husband has, he must see a physician as soon as possible; once his illness has been diagnosed, let OSHA take it on board. Respirators should only be used as a second rate substitute for local exhaust ventilation and when LEV is not feasible or practicable.
I hope this helps you get to the bottom of your problem.
R&D practical scientist
Chesham, Bucks, UK
Q. I weld and burn (with a torch) and lot of galvanized metal at work. Inhaling the fumes can give you galvanized poisoning for a short time but are there any long term effects? Does the zinc or lead do any damage to the internal organs such as lungs, liver, brain cells etc?
- Howell, Michigan
A. I have Galvanize poisoning right now. I own a small fabrication shop and did a small job yesterday that involved welding heavily galvanized parts. I ground off all surface galvanizing. During welding(10-20 min) I noticed that the material was still holding traces of galvanizing. I kept my head out of the smoke as I have done on these types of jobs over the last 15 years. This particular part was heavily galvanized with very high quality stuff. With in 3 hours I was totally incapacitated, vomiting constantly and unable to hold down any fluids. I have an extremely dry throat, chills, and slight fever. It's been about 16 hours since it started and I'm feeling better.
I remember being told by a welding instructor that calcium helps with symptoms. Is this true? And what are the long term health effects?Peter VanBogart
self employed - Seattle, Washington
A. I have not heard anything about calcium specifically, but have been told of many shop welders who keep multiple gallons of milk in a fridge on site. This would make sense about the calcium. Also, although I have not seen it myself, I was also told by multiple people the this is written in the Welders Handbook. Lots of milk is the only way to get the Poison out of your body. Also, that when exposed enough, it displaces the minerals and nutrients in your blood stream because it is a heavy metal and will stay in your system until it is forced out. I've been sick for three weeks from this and just started drinking lots of whole milk last week and am feeling much better but not all the way yet.Jason Dovel
- Martinez, California
A. Yes whole vitamin D milk, I was taught this by a old fashioned master welder. WE would start drinking the milk 1 hour before we would do a galvanized job and drink at least a gallon after and I have to admit it is not some old wives' tale, it worked. as the only large welding repair & machine shop in the county back in the 70's we got to work on everything and hated to do galvanized.W. R. Loutzenheiser
- Hastings, Nebraska
September 12, 2010
A. Yes, drinking Milk before and after burning galvanized will help prevent sickness.C Barr
- Lafayette indiana
Q. My name is Shannon Hunter and I'm married to a Union Iron Worker who has suffered, from time to time, with this "galvanized poisoning". He gets shivering cold, then hot, chest pains, vomiting, puffy blood-shot eyes... He tells me not to worry, that it's common in welders. I'd like to know if there are any long term effects or concerns I can share with him. He's currently been welding galvanized steel in a non-ventilated space. Also, is there any reading material I can purchase?
- Frederick, Maryland
A. Shannon, this is an okay place for people to ask introductory questions about fume fever or galvanize poisoning, but when we get to an actual person who is sick, you need to work with a doctor.
If you search this site with the terms "fume fever" or "galvanize poisoning" you will find a number of similar inquiries, like letters 8535, 13244, 31254, 32872, and references on where to look for additional reading material. But the main point is: please get your husband to a doctor.
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey
Q. I am a self employed engineer who does a lot of aluminum and galvanised plate welding, when I have done a lot of welding particularly galvanised material I get what has been described as zinc chills (uncontrollable shaking) migraine headaches, sore joints, my question is, is this accumulative and am I putting myself in real danger, and can this be treated? Thank you!Shaun Barrer
- Brightwater, New Zealand
A. I think everybody knows long term effects of overexposure to lead is deadly, why gov. or welding agencies don't say that is beyond me. I'm online researching and finding a respirator to buy for myself and modify my extra hood to accommodate it. A build up of any chemical over time cannot be deemed as healthy or ok.James Sneed
- Wolftown, Virginia
Hi, James. You're certainly welcome to any opinion on any subject, and you're right that overexposure to things is not good. But my opinion is that the government and welding agencies are not involved in any coverup and that it is not constructive to accuse them of it. Have you seen anywhere where they claim that exposure to these fumes is "healthy or ok"?
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey
Q. I WORK IN A FACTORY SPOT WELDING. WE DO A LOT OF GALVANIZED PARTS AND FOR 2 MONTHS I HAVE HAD SORES COME UP ON MY ARMS AND LEGS AND FEET AND I COUGH A LOT WHEN I COME HOME. I HAVE BEEN TO A DR. AND DERMATOLOGIST AND I AM STILL TRYING TO FIND OUT WHAT I HAVE. I HAVE WELDED 14 YEARS. PLEASE HELP ME.Vivian Godsey
spotwelding - Dayton, Tennessee
Q. I work in a stamping plant, running a spot welder. I weld galvanized steel and come home sick every time I do. The ventilation in my plant is not so good, and we are told that there are no fumes that will harm us! I don't believe them, and was wondering if welding this causes poisonous fumes.K Geiger
Stamping Plant - Westland, Michigan
A. Hi, K.
You know that the ventilation is poor and that you are inhaling these fumes and you are coming home sick. To the question of whether there are any long term effects: at present most people apparently don't think so. That's not assurance that they are right or that they won't change their minds -- but I think it's irrelevant because short term sickness is completely unacceptable.
Trying to help people and their loved ones sleep better by reassuring them that they are probably not going to die from something is one thing; but trying to justify short term sickness on the basis that there probably are no long term effects is ludicrous. Regards,
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey
Q. I have recently found I have some joint pain in my left hand today some in my right . never had that before . the only thing I can figure , I was welding a small amount of galvanized pipes together. I have got sick from that before , many years ago. So I have learned how to avoid it now but was out side and tried to stay away from it. Its the only symptom I have but its the only think I can attribute it to. Its like severe arthritis but it came on all at once, kinda weird hope it goes away soon. Any help you can give would ease my mind, Thank You.Greg Holk
- Everett, Washington
July 9, 2008
Q. HUSBAND IN THE ARMY WELDS WITH new electrodes and armor plate steel HEY MY HUSBAND IS A WELDER HIM AND HIS SOLDIERS ARE GETTING HEAD ACHES AND NOSE BLEEDs, etc. FROM THE FUMES OF WELDING THE BUILDING THEY WELD IN IS NOT WELL VENTILATED AND THERE IS NOTHING THEY CAN DO ABOUT THAT SO DOES ANYONE KNOW OF A GOOD MASK THAT CAN PROTECT HIM AND HIS SOLDIERS FROM THESE FUMES BECAUSE THEIR SYMPTOMS ARE JUST GETTING WORSE! THANKSJENNIFER HIDALGO
WELDING - CHICAGO, Illinois
August 15, 2008
A. I have been a welder for 36 years, I have gotten sick to very sick from welding galvanized steel. I weld or cut galvanized steel almost every week, I try to stay out of the cloud of smoke when I can, since most of my work is on galvanized traffic poles it is outside and I don't usually have any effects.
When I am in an enclosed area I use a fresh air hood. I have gotten the MSDS sheets from the company in Canton Ohio who does the galvanizing and they say there is no proof of long term exposure. I wonder if the many aches and headaches are from this or other exposure to the many fumes that come from welding. You should avoid as much exposure as possible to any fumes. Workers are exposed to many dangers, you are the most responsible for your life and safety, if you choose not to be careful and insist on safe working conditions you will be the one that pays the price. How much is your health worth?Tom Shannon
mobile welding - Mantua Ohio
August 18, 2008
Hi, Tom. Your posting is very sound advice indeed! I don't think that aches and headaches that come weeks later are due to the welding (just about everybody has aches of various sorts at various times). But I certainly don't know it, and I don't believe that anybody really knows.
If you think about pharmaceutical studies, there are all sorts of placebo effects. So much so that nobody even attempts a clinical test except 'double blind', where neither the patient nor the doctor knows whether they are getting the real stuff or an inert pill. Separating how you feel based on actual assaults on your body from how you feel based on your mind is nearly impossible.
So I think it will be a very long time before we know whether there are long term effects, and the right course is to simply say you're not supposed to get sick from your work! If you do so repeatedly, it's probably possible that there are long term effects.
Luck and Regards,
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey
September 10, 2008
Q. I started welding about 2 weeks ago with my school. The rooms are very well ventilated and there's even a system overhead that sucks up the smoke. I try to keep my head away from the fumes but still since I started welding I've been waking up during the night with migraines. I do have air conditioning while I sleep and also Have a chronic Panic disorder but the migraines only started when I started welding. I would imagine that they could all be a factor but I'm wondering if the migraines are caused from inhaling excessive fumes.Jessi-Lee B. [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
Student - Cowansville Quebec, Canada
September 12, 2008
A. Hi, Jessi-Lee. Assuming the migraines are instigated by the welding, it seems more likely that the light is the cause rather than the fumes. Sorry, this opinion is based on zero applicable experience or training, and nothing but wild guess though :-)
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey
May 19, 2009
Q. Hello all, My name is Dale. I graduated High school in June 16th, 1968. Went into the Service AF in Feb 1969. I went to an AFB for training in metals processing. I was trained as a Welder, in various processes to include Super Alloys. I was welding during the years of 70 to 72. During these years I welded Galvanized metals. I was welding in an enclosed area in a metal building one year and we were told that we needed at least a quart of milk for each hour you weld. We rec. no milk or anything for the three hours.
I then have had various instances of the recurring problem. And ending up in the hospital every time for at least 2 weeks. I've tried to access my records several times to no avail. One time I threw up this bright green crap, bad headaches and passing out.
My SSgt wouldn't let me go to the Dispensary till my friend Jim put his fist through the door and opened it. Then after trying to stay away from welding for about 8 years. I was offered a job welding race cars, which I turned down. And started working for a Temp agency and ended up working in stores and they asked if I knew anyone who had welding experience and wanted to weld Laser tubes. I said it's been a while but I give it a try the money was good. In the mean time I was welding, mind you, back then no ventilation fans, etc. And was asked to weld something and Charlie my lead told me what to use and we were right next to cleaning tank with Tricloroethylene, and MEK / methyl ethyl ketone for cleaning. Needless to say after welding it and back to the Laser tubes I started getting a feeling like someone was standing on my chest, and headaches. I tried to make it up the stairs from the shop and couldn't and wound up in the Hospital for another two weeks. Can you explain that? Needless to say everything is now well ventilated and fans and hoses on the welding helmets and masks for goggles at that company. I haven't welded since but have a hard time taking zinc vitamins or anything related to it, and have plural Neuropathy. Nerves that are causing numbness and loss of feeling in my feet and problems with my arms and hands. And nerves that are losing sensitivity. Eyes are blurring, Ocular migraines. And the VA doctor says I'm experiencing Bipolar effects. Any ideas there?|
was a Welder - Barstow California
August 18, 2009
Q. Hello, was trying to find out earlier what the symptoms of Galvanize Poisoning was.. You all have been very helpful and I will be going to the one site to find a copy of the MSDS on this subject...
I had no choice but to weld Kindorf to heavily galvanized deck flashing today after it was in place.. I believe the only symptoms I have at the moment are the puffy and irritated eyes.. (but that may also be to blame from the fiberglass in the air and massive sweat pouring in my eyes....)
Thank you very much.. And for many of the complaints above, if you cannot remedy the situation of poor ventilation (i have a box fan 2 feet from my weld) or not being able to grind the galvanize off the surface first (you will see metal sparks from the grinder when it is gone and you hit the steel (galvanize does not have sparks)), I would suggest you call OSHA or the Labor & Relations Dept in your areas.. you need to report Unsafe working conditions... In my case, I have a Union that I can also go to for assistance when I need...(I am an IBEW Electrician/Welder)
And you always have the option to refuse to do the task if it is unsafe... IF you get fired for it, you CAN sue their ass and win back pay PLUS compensation for working in the hazardous situation prior.
- Baltimore, Maryland
February 21, 2010
A. I had MFF or "Zinc Chills" as we call it here in the UK. It's a bit like Malaria. The fever comes on some time after exposure to the zinc oxide and ebbs and rises for some time until it finally eases. It's consequently cyclical in its acute phase. You are SUPPOSED to have exhaust fume extraction at the point of welding to eliminate the risk of this illness, but so many plants still don't bother. My exposure was due to welding galvanized steel some 30 years ago; the process threw up fine, whispy, airborne threads of white zinc oxide which you couldn't help but inhale. In those days health and safety at work were a joke. No way is drinking milk going to protect your lungs; it might suppress the symptoms but that's about all. Today, 30 years on, I have uncontrollable muscle tremors and have to continually clear my throat as I still produce far too much phlegm as a reaction. Is this due to zinc oxide poisoning from 30 years ago? I still have no idea, but it would not surprise me one iota. You need to be very careful with galvanized metal.Mike Leguit
- London, UK
February 24, 2010
A. Please, please: if your employer doesn't provide a respirator, get one yourself! They're only around $30-40 for a good half-mask version that uses cartridges. Don't know about you, but I'd rather spend $40 than get sick all the time. MUCH cheaper than going to the doctor!
And a fan to blow the fumes away from you.
- Duvall, Washington
June 24, 2010
Q. My husband has been having symptoms for over six months and is still working at the machine shop where he is a tool & die maker. It started with eye conjunctivitis in December. From March to June, he has been to six doctors, most of which said they didn't know what was wrong with him. He is now seeing an occupational medicine doctor and he told him he had a very severe allergy to the metal fumes in his shop. His nose is completely filled and is now in his lungs. He also has swelling in his arms (twice their normal size) and lumps on his head. He is unable to go to the restroom, loss of appetite, cannot sleep due to the pain, can't lift his arms, etc. He is still trying to get the correct treatment from this most recent doctor. He misses at least one day of work per week. He is now in so much pain and has endured it for months that he doesn't feel his job is worth it & will be quitting.Teresa Thompson
Machine shop employee - Panama City Beach, Florida, USA
August 15, 2010
Q. My husband is a welder and I afraid he start getting sick, I would appreciate someone tell me what vitamins he needs to take and other food that can help him to maintain his body strength while he works as a welder,
Thanks so much
welder's wife - Broken Arrow, Oklahoma
September 5, 2010
Q. My son is a MIG welder in a factory. He welds 5-6 days per week for a year. His symptoms are weakness, extreme tiredness, easily falls asleep most anytime and often sleeps on his breaks/lunch at work, sleeps a lot at home, pain in joints, now has a lump under his arm, severe migraines, no endurance, sometimes almost passes out, sometimes chills and fever. He and his wife note that his sweat has a strange odor described as vinegar like. He gobbles Excedrin trying to reduce the headaches and pain. This week he missed one day work as he was in the hospital for diagnosis (company insurance will NOT pay), and the 4th consecutive day he has not welded, he says he feels great and that this is the best he has felt in months. I know the government used IV chelation therapy decades ago to remove heavy metal poisoning. Unfortunately unemployment is very high here and there are no jobs available period, and his welding is the highest paid job in this area. He cannot afford to quit, but he cannot afford to kill himself either.Ray James
- Paragould, Arkansas, USA
April 15, 2011
!! My husband had been a professional welder for 18 years before being diagnosed with kidney cancer in 2002, age 44 from welding galvanized steel, painted plow blades and so forth at work. At that time no one wore respirators. He use to tell me about the galvanized fume poisoning he had gotten a few times over the years of welding. All the symptoms listed above from many of the responses. He had the surgery to remove his kidney and has been cancer free ever since. He however, does not weld anymore. Short term symptoms are listed above from everyone, but long term effects can cause cancer. Kidney cancer is one that the zinc chromite/ hexavalent chromium collects in the kidneys over time and lengthy exposure. It is a slow growing cancer and you would not know it unless a cat scan or MRI was done to the mid back region. No pain until the end. My husband found it by getting a cat scan for a back injury. Cancer was a secondary find.
All of you who weld for a living should make sure you use a respirator, and not breathe in the air from the room you are welding in. Also make sure the room is ventilated well.
You should get checked out right away if you come down with any symptoms that are not normal. This is your life.
- Windsor Connecticut USA
April 26, 2015
!! I am a retiree (60 years old in good health) who welds and fabricates for fun. Here is my experience with metal fume disease.
One week ago I spent about two hours cutting steel plate with a plasma cutter, and then welding it with an Arc welder using 7014 rod. At the same time I also ground the surface and welded a 1946 tractor fender which had tears in the metal. I was working in the open bay door of my shop, with full open air exposure; however, there was no wind that day and I found grinding dust, fumes, etc. coming into my helmet.
At the end of the day I had a headache and sore throat. The following day I began to have thermoregulation problems with chills, fever and sweating along with pronounced muscle pain in the neck. This continued for four full days during which I felt too weak to leave bed. My large leg muscles and muscles overall ached like a bad flu case. I took 1-2 Ibuprofen and one aspirin on alternate days. I also took 2 potassium gluconate tablets to help chelate the metal effects. On the fourth day, I continued to drank fluids. For the whole week I coughed up large amounts of gritty substances. As of today (one week later), I have minor muscle pain in the neck, and a residual cough,but have regained almost normal energy levels. My guess is that the fender had heavy galvanizing that had been covered with thick paint (possibly zinc chromate based)and the welding and grinding released that material in the weld fumes.
It was a scary experience, and I will never weld without a fan and mask under those conditions again. My mistake was in not recognizing that the antique tractor had heavy galvanizing buried under paint and rust. In short, I was exposed to welding rod fumes, plasma arc gases, grinding disk rubble, zinc based galvanizing and possible heavy metal paint products, in combination it was a severe situation. PS I have been welding for years and have never had anything like this happen before.Bruce Hunn
- Thompson Falls, Montana, USA
July 23, 2015
Q. I've been a welder in fabricating for roughly 22 years. I've have problems with my eyes that feel like muscle twitches. I have to close them tightly to get them to stop. I've also developed RLS while first starting my welding career. I've also welded in confined spaces like tanks and chutes which had a variety of chemicals that had leached into the stainless and carbon steel. I've only had one flash in my career; it wasn't a bad one so I don't believe that was the cause. Any insight would greatly be appreciated. And yes milk does help with galvanize poisoning. Thanks much.Dave Biser
Sheetmetal Local 100 - Baltimore, Maryland