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topic 15683

Safety/Danger of Grinding Galvanized Metal


A discussion started in 2002 & continuing through 2017 . . .

(2002)

Q. I am working with galvanized metal products. I grind them with a hand held angle grinder, which produces a lot of dust. Could anyone tell me the health risk involved in this and what kind of protection I should be using?

Richard Beeching
- Lydd-on-Sea, Kent, U.K.


Developing a Safety and Health Program

(2002)

A. Protecting employees from hazards is an employer obligation, so I assume you are self-employed or this is a hobby.

Although zinc is not hazardous in the sense that cadmium, mercury, and lead are, you don't want to breathe any dusts at all, whether work or hobby, wood or metal or plastic. And you probably have no good way of being sure there is no cadmium or lead on the parts you are working with. So you would certainly want a particulate filter as a minimum.

Although welding produces very high temperatures that vaporize zinc, allowing inhalation of the vapor, I don't think grinding will produce zinc fumes, but a suction-type exhaust system or fan may a good idea to be on the safe side. Physicians can do blood monitoring, and if you are working intensively with this stuff you perhaps should be monitored.

Ted Mooney, finishing.com Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey


Respirator, Sanding

(2003)

A. THE MOST SENSIBLE SUGGESTION TO YOU WOULD BE IS TO MAKE SURE YOU ARE RESPECTING YOUR HEALTH BY WEARING A MASK, PREFERABLY A CHARCOAL FILLED MASK AND TRY NOT TO GRIND TOWARDS YOURSELF IF THERE ARE NO FUMES, THERE SHOULD NOT BE A STRONG CONCERN. WHERE THERE ARE FUMES NORMALLY AN EXHAUST SYSTEM SHOULD BE USED AND TRY TO WORK IN AN OPEN AREA.

GEORGE TOH
- CANADA


(2006)

A. In reference to the respirator advice given above, for protection from particulates (fumes, dusts, etc.) you should have a respirator with a particulate filter (such as a N-95, or HEPA filter). A charcoal filter will only work for vapors, such as solvents. A charcoal filter will provide no protection against fumes or dusts.

As a side note, a particulate filter respirator can cause some degree of stress, as it is more strenuous to breath through them. OSHA requires that employees who wear respiratory protection undergo a medical review to ensure that wearing a respirator will not endanger their health. Though it is not common, some individuals with an underlying physical ailment such as cardiovascular disease or asthma may be adversely affected by wearing respiratory protection.

Kyle Madden
- Oklahoma City, Oklahoma


February 1, 2011

Q. What are the symptoms of inhalation of fumes caused by grinding galvanised metal?

geoffrey kendrew
- Wales UK

February 2, 2011

A. Hi, Geoffrey.

I don't know whether we have established that grinding produces zinc fumes or not. The fumes come from vaporization of the metal, and vaporization occurs at a much higher temperature than melting. Grinding wouldn't work too well if you were melting the material. But look up "metal fume fever"; the symptoms are supposedly similar to the flu but last only a few days instead of a week or more. If you only got it once, it's probably difficult to tell if zinc was responsible or not; but if it's repetitive and associated, then it's a good bet.

Regards,

Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey


Respirator

December 18, 2015

A. To fully protect yourself, I would highly recommend a 3M Particulate Filter 2091/07000(AAD), P100 Respiratory Protection or at the very least a dust mask. I work with galvanized steel on a consistent basis. I know what it is like to get ill from breathing or being exposed to fumes and inhaling the galvanized dust. It's some bad stuff. If you're questionable about it, put on some PPE. Be safe out there.

Paul Nash
Union Ironworker Local #3 - Altoona, Pennsylvania USA


December 2015

thumbs up signHi Paul. I guess you're saying that grinding can produce dusts that can be inhaled and cause zinc fume fever. Nice to get an answer.

Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey
Striving to live "Aloha"


April 9, 2017

A. Regarding the opinions expressed above about zinc vaporization:

It is obviously correct that a grinding operation is not intended to "melt the metal". But what that actually means is not melt the BASE metal. The steel base metal gets red hot on occasion locally (right at the grinding or cutting wheel) meaning it is 1600-1800 °F. Zinc melts at about 790 °F and boils to vapor at about 1650 °F. Therefore zinc oxide vapor can absolutely be created by grinding galvanized steel without "melting" the base metal in a welding operation or otherwise.

The likelihood of producing the zinc vapor in significant quantities goes up with reduced thickness of the workpiece. So sheet metal with two galvanized surfaces and low mass of steel will get hot and produce lots of vapor, while a thick walled galvanized pipe will not produce as much due to the higher "thermal mass" of steel and not vaporizing inside and outside surface simultaneously.

Bottom line, if the steel gets "red" or into the "orange" spectrum, then zinc vapor is produced.

scott gabler
- south lake tahoe, California, usa



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