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topic 7164p5

Is Galvanized Steel Poisonous?

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A discussion started in 2001 but continuing through 2020

December 19, 2016

Q. I was scrubbing down some galvanized pipe for a desk I'm building, using what I thought was a non-abrasive scrubbing pad. I noticed a metallic smell every so often, but thought that was just from the hot, soapy water I was using to soak the pipes. It was only after a while that I noticed that the pad was actually scouring the metal, and that it and my gloves were covered in grey smudges. Now I'm worried that I might have inhaled a bunch of zinc or other metal particles and damaged myself. I haven't noticed any symptoms of anything, but should I be worried?

Theo Graham
- Omaha, Nebraska, US

December 2016

A. Hi. Scrubbing with an abrasive pad is unlikely to release any metal shards, and it's even less likely that you could inhale them.


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Ted Mooney, P.E. RET - Pine Beach, New Jersey
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December 28, 2016

Q. I've made a heat exchanger for my wood burning fireplace out of galvanized Steel pipe. Do you think it will reach temperature to turn into gas. My son's eyes started to get puffy so I stopped using it but it could also be him helping me start the fire, and smoke & dust getting in his eyes. Let me know what you guys think.

Michael mcqueen
- Indlps, Indiana

April 2017

A. Hi Michael. Some people think it's not good practice to make such parts from galvanized steel. But while I have no medical qualifications, I think smoke & dust is 1000 times more likely to be the cause of his puffy eyes than zinc fumes.


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Ted Mooney, P.E. RET - Pine Beach, New Jersey
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February 21, 2017

Q. Hello I run 2 ten ton melters and my company wants us to melt galvanized steel, is it hazardous to melt down 7000-10000 lbs. of galvanized steel?

Aaron Dransfield
- New castle, Kentucky

November 10, 2017

Q. I had an electrogalvanized nail in my mouth today will I get zinc poisoning?

Alex Erwin
- Cassville, Missouri

November 2017

Hi Alex. You should never put nails in your mouth for a number of good reasons, but you don't get zinc poisoning even from eating a couple of Cold-Eze tablets, so you certainly won't get it from having one zinc coated nail in your mouth for a moment. Zinc is an essential micro-nutrient, not a poison.


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Ted Mooney, P.E. RET - Pine Beach, New Jersey
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November 18, 2017

A. Companies such as Porsche had to develop procedures for the safe welding of galvanized car chassis in the 70s and 80s due to well documented and accepted human health risks associated with the toxic fumes produced when welding galvanized metals. Only then could Porsche and others offer corrosion warranties.

Ben Opie
- Melbourne, Victoriaam Australia

January 2, 2018

A. Metal fumes produced from welding are well understood. Note that a fume is a particle. The phrase gasoline fume is incorrect as that is a vapor. So, you can be exposed to zinc fume when welding on galvanized steel as well as iron, and any other component of the steel alloy (usually mild steel). Condensation of the metal vapor generated at the arc high temperature zone generates fume (very small particulate ([<1 micron]) Any particulate can be harmful if inhaled. Zinc is of low toxicity when compared to lead, cadmium, chromium, beryllium. Long term overexposure, via inhalation, to inhaled iron particulate, like fume, can lead to siderosis. Similar to silicosis.

Kerry Smith
- Orem, Utah, USA

January 2018

Thanks for the interesting and helpful reply, Kerry! But I don't think you'll be successful in restricting the definition of "fume" to particulates because most dictionaries don't agree. They seem to say "vapors, gasses, smoke, or dusts" with the clarification that, while some dusts constitute fumes, other dusts are heavy and settle out rather than remaining airborne.


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Ted Mooney, P.E. RET - Pine Beach, New Jersey
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January 6, 2018

Q. Hi.

I have a Weber BBQ and I want to use charcoal briskets to cook, of course removing the gas bottle and fittings.

My question is: Can I use a piece of gal mesh to cover the hole in the bottom of the Weber to stop charcoal falling through? Will it affect the food?

Kevin Moran
- Sydney NSW, Australia

January 9, 2018

A. Hi Kevin,

I wouldn't do it, because zinc in the galvanized sheet will melt and vaporize. Use a steel sheet or mesh instead, it will corrode but it will be safe for you :)

Best regards,

Daniel Montanes
TEL - N FERRARIS - Canuelas, Buenos Aires, Argentina

January 2018

A. I'd always heat any metal without food the first time no matter whether it was plain, painted, or galvanized; after that I wouldn't worry about galvanized mesh with no food contact for a second myself. The ash collecting trays in the wood burning stoves I have seen have been galvanized metal.

Opinions is all you can get; on B-B-Q forums you'll hear lots of people saying it's as bad as lead or mercury, but I've never heard of anyone getting sick from an application like this, and google scholar doesn't seem to indicate any problem although it does include the usual warnings against cooking on very old cadmium plated refrigerator shelving. Zinc is an essential micronutrient, not a poison.


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Ted Mooney, P.E. RET - Pine Beach, New Jersey
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February 12, 2018

Q. My son is working at a place that galvanizes metal. He does the filing and cleaning after the pieces are dipped. When it was sleeting the other night, fumes where coming off the metal. He asked for a mask several times but did not get one until after he had been working for over an hour. He started throwing up before they got him a used mask. He had to come home. He has been feeling bad with a headache and stomach issues since then. This was Saturday. What caused this? And is there something he can do to help the symptoms and for this to not happen again? Thank you!

Rhonda Mayo
- Claremore, Oklahoma, USA

February 2018

A. Hi Rhonda. Although it is possible that something he did at work is the cause of his illness, please recognize that the flu is rampant in 49 states, and at the worst level it's been in many years. I think he should see a doctor to try to determine what is going on.

We appreciate your concern and interest, but to try to get a clear picture, from a mother who has probably never even been in the factory in question, as to exactly what happened, and the probability of whether or not his illness is the result of exposure to zinc fumes, just isn't possible. In general, zinc fumes are a problem only to welders who heat the metal to thousands of degrees and then inhale the clouds of vaporized zinc oxide. "Filing and cleaning" doesn't sound like it would expose a person to zinc fumes, but we don't know exactly what filing and cleaning involves, or what kind of fumes were coming off the metal and after which operation while it was sleeting. Best of luck for a speedy return to health.


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Ted Mooney, P.E. RET - Pine Beach, New Jersey
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February 16, 2018

Q. I want to line my propane gas grill with corrugated galvanized sheet metal. Will the heat cause any toxic fumes from the metal and transfer to the food?

Ray Holt
Beach Rentals - St. Pete Beach, Florida

February 2018

A. Hi Ray. I personally think it's not a real issue, and if you're talking about your own family's grill I'll stick with that opinion. But perceptions matter -- look at all the people who have posted here and on similar threads who just might call the police or the health department if they saw galvanized sheet metal on a food service grill. If you're talking about a business, do yourself a favor and use plain steel or stainless steel :-)


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Ted Mooney, P.E. RET - Pine Beach, New Jersey
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April 14, 2018

Q. I recently found a very lovely DIY birdbath that I'd like to make. The instructions include using a galvanized tray as the base and it will be in contact with the water. I noticed some people commenting on the instruction video that this is harmful to birds/hummingbirds, but I don't know if this is a valid concern. The water would be in constant circulation if that makes any difference.

Annie Szentner
- Nanaimo, BC, Canada

April 2018

A. Hi Annie. That's one that will require someone with veterinary training or who has read a detailed study because: on the one hand galvanized watering troughs and roofs & gutters have been used for water on farms and in rural area for many decades, and birds surely drink from them ... but on the other hand, birds aren't people, and the fact that a small amount of zinc is good for people doesn't mean it's good for birds.


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Ted Mooney, P.E. RET - Pine Beach, New Jersey
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Can zinc-based primer cause metal fume fever?

July 9, 2018

Q. I am a professional painter and I am working in the new construction of a stadium. I paint 10 hours a day using a zinc primer on metal bolts and nuts. We grind, profile, clean and then prime. Almost every painter, including myself have come down with flu like symptoms and missed a couple days work. I have formed a rash on my ankles, and feet and once I dripped some primer on my upper chest where my shirt was open. I wiped it off at once but have now got a rash that itches there. I don't know if the flu like symptoms were actual flu or something else or metal flu. I am going to ask around if any of the other trades have had flu symptoms.

Mark McCune
Union Painter - Phoenix, Arizona, USA

July 23, 2018

Q. I have been looking at making a fire pit out of an old tire rim.

Went on Amazon to see what they had for a decorative pit and saw a Galvanized fire pit. One person mentioned it being a bad idea and people shot his comment down. However, I want to side with him.

I see results for a campfire getting to around 900-1000 °C. That seems rather close to the point of concern.

Now, I understand that there are a lot of factors that go into a fire and its temperature, and taking into account the ventilation of a outdoor wood fire pit, and the fact that the smoke from the wood would probably cause you to move into fresher air …
Do you see ANY way that the galvanized fire pit would pose a real world issue even if you were trying to get the ring to glow by stoking and bellowing the fire?

Bill Flippen
- Eugene Oregon USA

July 2018

thumbs up sign  Hi Bill. This is one of a dozen threads on the same subject, each with a hundred entries, going on for over two decades now. People want assurance that there isn't ANY possible danger, but that whole concept doesn't work for anything at all :-)

For the umpteenth time: zinc is not a toxin, it is a required micronutrient, and larger doses are deliberately taken to shorten the length of colds.

Some zinc welders sometimes get "metal fume fever" from inhaling clouds of white zinc oxide when they continually make the metal white hot and keep their face right in the middle of it, which constitutes a huge overdose hundreds if not tens of thousands of times as high as anyone could ever get from a fire ring. And even then, many people (but not all) feel there are no long term effects even from repeatedly suffering metal fume fever.

How many angels?

Hypotheticals about employing bellows to make fire rings glow red hot strike me like asking how many angels can dance on the shoulders of the angels who are dancing on the head of the pin :-)


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Ted Mooney, P.E. RET - Pine Beach, New Jersey
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August 23, 2018

Q. Hi, I'm looking into purchasing a gazebo for the deck and was wondering what is best material that won't leach any toxic fumes even while being heated in the sun and no air breeze. The gazebos offered have either Galvanized steel, galvanized aluminum or polycarbonate roofing.
Thanks in advance!

Nataly Fisher
- New York

August 2018

A. Hi. I did my bar with a polycarbonate roof and loved it. It looks like delicate stuff that will easily crack or break but it absolutely isn't. I think you'll be happiest with that.


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Ted Mooney, P.E. RET - Pine Beach, New Jersey
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September 23, 2018

Q. Hi my partner burns pallets with galvanised nails in the wood burner. Is it safe? There is also a crack in the top of the wood burner.

Tasha birton
- Amersham Buckinghamshire England

September 2018

A. Hi Tasha. Sorry I don't know exactly what you mean by 'the wood burner' or exactly what you mean about it having a crack in it. But if this is indoors, a cracked 'wood burner' is both a serious fire danger and a serious carbon monoxide danger. Galvanized nails sound like the absolute least of your worries :-)


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Ted Mooney, P.E. RET - Pine Beach, New Jersey
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October 23, 2018

Q. I was cutting galvanized sheet metal with a saws-all and a strong breeze caused the fine shavings to be blown into my eyes. I got an infection in my eyes and have not been able to stop them from itching. I have been prescribed antibiotics, steroid gels and eye drops over the last 18 months. All have provided temporary relief. I now have legions and itching spots all over my body.

Do you have any information that would provide some idea if this could be caused by these substances being absorbed into my system?

Donald Holler
Retired - MCALPIN Florida, USA

October 2018

A. Hi Donald. Sorry for this hardship. Most of our readers are metal finishers rather than people who have medical training, and no one with medical training would attempt a diagnosis from such a verbal description. All I can suggest is that you see or continue to see a doctor who is familiar with your symptoms.

Part of the problem with our society's emphasis on chemical exposures to heavy metals is that we may focus on the wrong things. Zinc is an essential micronutrient, so exposure to a small amount while sawing galvanized metal seems to be a nothing burger ... whereas benzene is a serious poison, and tiny metal shards in your eyes is an emergency. You have done a service by reminding others to always wear appropriate safety glasses or goggles in such situations; and sorry that I can't help.


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Ted Mooney, P.E. RET - Pine Beach, New Jersey
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November 23, 2018

Q. Could galvanized steel be safely used as a flame shield in a propane grill ? If not, what would you recommend as a rust preventative ?

edward phillips
- Westlake, Oregon

November 2018

A. Hi Edward. To my limited knowledge researchers have not studied this, so all you get is personal opinions. I think concern about heating zinc coated surfaces in the open air at lower than welding temperatures is wildly overblown; I'd run the grill on high for 7 minutes with the cover open then not worry about it.


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Ted Mooney, P.E. RET - Pine Beach, New Jersey
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October 10, 2019

! I worked for the pipefitters union for about 6 or 7 years. I quit because work was slow. I went back to deep u/g mining in a few weeks from leaving the pipe fitters. After a few weeks at the mines I was so stiff and sore I could barely get out of bed.

We did a lot of stairways, platforms and stair treads -- they were all galvanized! I did lots of welding at the plant where we installed them. I started getting worse. I went to my family Dr. and he started treating me for Parkinson's disease. I always think it is metal poisoning!

Rick Nance
- centertown Kentucky

December 13, 2019

A. Former Force Account Work Coordinator/Supervisory Engineering Technician for Bureau of Reclamation. Trained in Power Shop and Welding.
All my work with galvanized welding called for full ventilation of fumes with air moved away from the welder; the basic reason being zinc metal inhalation into the lungs with concern for long term lung damage. Reducing this possibility called for prior removal of the galvanized coating in the weld area as well for a better weld.
The jury is still out on how much damage but with PM2.5 increasing health impacts, why take an unnecessary risk?

Stephen Verchinski
- Albuquerque, New Mexico, U.S.A.

March 3, 2020

Ed. note:
abstract questions

Q. Can the food which is baked in galvanized steel absorb toxic metals from it? Is it safe to bake goods in Oven whose inner chamber is made up of galvanized steel?

Aalok Srivastav
- Amritsar, Punjab, India

March 2020

A. Hi. Don't.


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Ted Mooney, P.E. RET - Pine Beach, New Jersey
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March 12, 2020

Q. Hi, I have a gopher problem in my vegetable garden and was curious if it would be harmful to use hardware cloth to line the bed. The hardware cloth I am interested in is by Acorn International, which has a Prop 65 warning on the Home Depot site. It is galvanized and therefore contains Zinc which is the reason for the warning. The manufacturers say that the hardware cloth contains 160 mg-200 mg of Zinc per m2.

Thanks so much!

Sarai Lomeli
- Pasadena, California, USA

March 2020

A. Hi Sarai. You paid your elected politicians and your bureaucrats, and re-elected them after they chose this problem to focus on. Home Depot and everyone else up and down the line is now burdened with the costs of propagating the proposition, so you may as well heed it. The warning presumably refers to touching it, not burying it. So wear gloves when handling -- hardware cloth is nasty pricky stuff anyway.


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Ted Mooney, P.E. RET - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Aloha -- an idea worth spreading

May 13, 2020

Q. Is it safe to use galvanized aluminum shutters?

Beverly Todd
- Port St Lucie, Florida

May 2020

A. Hi Beverly. There is no such thing as galvanized aluminum. If you want to worry about your shutters being poisonous you'll have to first find out what they're actually made of. Good luck.


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Ted Mooney, P.E. RET - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Aloha -- an idea worth spreading

sidebar August 1, 2020

thumbs up sign Hi all,

I would like to use this opportunity to thank Ted Mooney for being active in this topic for the last 19(!) years. Came here from a Google search - and found my answer thanks to Mr. Mooney - but kept reading because I was astonished by his dedication of providing advice over such a long period of time. No further questions, just wanted to express my gratitude.

Greetings, Anthony

Anthony Morsink
- Nijmegen, Netherlands

August 2020

A. Thank you very much for the kind words, Anthony. I find myself blessed to have been able to earn a modest living for so long doing something so easy, and exactly what I wish to do, when so many people must struggle so hard.

Luck & Regards,

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Ted Mooney, P.E. RET - Pine Beach, New Jersey
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