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Am I having an allergic reaction to galvanized steel?

February 26, 2012

Q. I'm a journeyman ironworker, and I've been in construction since 1993. I have never had a problem with any galvanized structural members until this past January. I took a bolt-up call in December 2011 at the new facility being built in Hillsboro, Oregon. Six tens, and the chemical pipe rack is galvanized. Sometimes, in order to reach the deeper bolts I often had to lay flat with my face turned sideways cheek laid down on the beam. Starting in January my face began to break out in a widespread itching acne that completely covers both cheeks. Nothing I have tried thus far has any reducing or healing effects. I'd truly appreciate any insight you have about what is in galvanized coatings.

Deborah Wesala
- Portland, Oregon, United States

February 27, 2012

A. Hi Deborah. Although it would obviously be ridiculous for someone with no medical training and almost no facts on hand to try to diagnose someone thousands of miles away . . .

I think you can tell your doctor that the rack has a zinc coating, possibly with a small amount of hexavalent chrome on it, and that it may be a possibility. Simple abrasion, whether the beam be galvanized or steel or wood or plastic may be your doctor's diagnosis though. Good luck.


Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

April 27, 2012

A. Ms,

I wonder if the galvanized steel may have some nickel in it?

There is a dropper bottle test for nickel that can be obtained from the internet.


Dr. Thomas H. Cook
Galvanizing Consultant - Hot Springs, South Dakota, USA

June 12, 2012

A. I encountered someone once with an allergy to zinc oxide.
No problems with fresh galvanizing, unless there was "white rust", but old galv caused a rash.

Geoff Crowley
Crithwood Ltd.
Westfield, Scotland, UK
crithwood logo

June 30, 2012

A. Geoff,

Perhaps the problem is lead?

With all the "sun screens" and zinc oxide ointments applied to the skin, I think zinc or zinc oxide would be the last thing to cause a rash. Flux inclusions or surface stains of flux (e.g. zinc chloride and/or ammonium chloride) could possibly cause a skin problem.


Dr. Thomas H. Cook
Galvanizing Consultant - Hot Springs, South Dakota, USA

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