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By: Tabitha Mishra
| Last updated: June 10, 2022

What Does Fumes Mean?

Fumes are vapors produced when a metal is heated above its boiling point.

The fumes consist of extremely fine particles that remain suspended in the air for a brief amount of time. Fumes are hazardous substances and inhaling them can result in irritation and a number of chronic health conditions.

Safeopedia Explains Fumes

A number of industrial activities and materials will produce fumes, including:

  • Welding
  • Thermal cutting
  • Thermal spraying
  • Metal plating
  • Liquefying metals in melting furnaces
  • Plastic processing

Welding Fumes and Their Composition

Welding fumes are formed when a metal is heated above its boiling point and the resulting vapor condenses into very fine solid particulates.

These fumes are complex mixtures of metals, metallic oxides, silicates, and fluorides. They contain particles from the welding process as well as the materials being welded.

The composition of welding fumes is also influenced by the following factors:

  • Fluxes that contain silica or fluoride produce amorphous silica, metallic silicates, and fluoride fumes
  • Mild steel welding fumes primarily contain iron
  • Stainless steel welding fumes may have more chromium than iron
  • Fumes from nickel alloys predominantly contain nickel

Health Effects of Exposure to Welding Fumes

Inhaling welding fumes can result in or contrinute to:

  • Respiratory disorders
  • Kidney damage
  • Damage to the central nervous system
  • Cancer
  • Metal fume fever (with symptoms similar to the flu)
  • Stomach ulcers

Prolonged exposure to manganese fumes can also cause symptoms similar to Parkinson’s.

Acute exposure to welding fumes can cause nausea, dizziness, and irritation to the eyes, nose, or throat.

Unless there is adequate ventillation or workers are using proper supplied-air respirators, welding in enclosed spaces can result in suffocation due to fumes like helium, argon, and carbon dioxide displacing the oxygen in the air.

Limiting Exposure to Fumes

The American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) maintains recommended exposure limits for many types of fumes.

These exposure limits can be met by various means. Workplaces can be designed to ensure open spaces and ventilation to disperse fumes and prevent them from concentrating in one location. Even in those cases, however, the use of respiratory equipment is often necessary to ensure that workers are not exposed to harmful levels of airborne substances.


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