Fumes are airborne particles small enough to be inhaled and are produced in all welding and cutting operations. They are a mixture of: gases from the surrounding air, shielding gas, metallic elements – from parent metals, coatings and welding fluxes, which are vaporised in the welding arc.

Welding fumes are generally at levels low enough to pose no great health risk. However, when the concentration of fume is high enough the welder will be exposing him/herself to both low oxygen levels and potentially toxic metals.

Even low concentrations of toxic metals in welding fume, may cause health problems to nasal passages, the lungs, blood, liver, kidneys and nervous system.

Certain substances are particularly dangerous, even in very low concentrations so, welders should be aware of the dangers associated with metals such as beryllium, cadmium, zinc and lead.

The table below an indication of the toxicity of some of the metals more commonly encountered by welding operators.

MetalEffectTypical fume sourceVentilation
berylliumA highly toxic, quick acting poison. A carcinogen.copper based bearing alloys
casting alloys
glove box, fresh air supply
cadmiumA highly toxic carcinogen. Causes heart, lung and kidney damagesilver brazing alloys
surface coatings
glove box, fresh air supply
chromiumA carcinogen. Causes lung and skin disease, nasal irritationchromium alloys
stainless steel
electroplating
local exhaust
leadCauses fatigue, nerve and kidney damage and high blood pressurecopper base casting
lead based paints
free machining steels
local exhaust
copperAn irritant to nose and throat. Causes metal fume fever.copper alloys and castingslocal exhaust
nickelCauses skin and respiratory irritation and kidney damage. A carcinogen.nickel alloys
stainless steel
local exhaust
zincCauses metal fume feversurface coatings
bronze and brass
local exhaust
aluminiumCauses irritation to nose and throat and chronic bronchitisplates, castings
extrusions
local exhaust
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