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Welding of certain materials can give rise to fume containing freshly formed metal oxide fume. If inhaled in sufficient concentration it can produce a reaction similar to a bout of flu. This is what is commonly known as Metal Fume Fever.
Although it normally lasts no more than a day, it is possible to get an attack of fume fever more than once. However, there is no evidence to suggest that repeated bouts cause cumulative damage.
The metal oxides usually associated with metal fume fever are those of zinc and copper, although others can have the same effects. In welding and cutting it is working with copper alloys, galvanised and some painted components that are most likely to this problem.
Alternative names for metal fume fever include, 'Zinc Fume Fever', 'Brass Chills' or 'Brass Founders Ague'. These derive from the regular occurrence of fume fever in workers employed in brass foundries, where zinc, with its low boiling point (907°C), would boil-off when added to molten copper at 1083°C, forming zinc oxide in the air.
Metal Fume Fever is an acute, 'flu-like' attack brought on by exposure to freshly formed metal oxide fume.
Symptoms are first experienced about 8 to 12 hours after inhalation of the metal oxide. Sufferer feel like they are going down with 'flu.
Fume Fever is caused by inhalation of freshly formed metal oxide fume. Any fresh metal oxide can cause it but it is most frequently associated with zinc, from welding brasses, galvanized iron and steel, other alloys containing zinc and in some instances zinc rich primers and paints.
The simplest way to avoid getting metal fume fever is to use a suitable fume extractor, correctly positioned, to take the metal oxide fume away from the welders' breathing zone. The most suitable kind of extractor is a high volume, low velocity unit, as this type can be used with all welding processes, including TIG and other gas-shielded processes, without disrupting the gas shield.