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Thread: Warning! Metal fume fever dangers!!!!

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Oct 2009
    Sunbright, Tennessee (north eastern Tn)

    Warning! Metal fume fever dangers!!!!

    I know that this has been mentioned on other threads previously. I want to try to really bring it home. These articles were published in Spring 2005 issue of ABANA's publication, "The Hammer's Blow".

    The first is by a friend my mine and was gleaned from The Forge, ABANA's forum.

    "We have all burned the zinc off galvanized metal and gotten away with it with no apparent ill effects. Jim Wilson, however, was inside the closed shop, burning it off with a torch-he knew better. In fact, he sent his helper out of the shop because he knew it was dangerous. We like to think we are indestructible, but the fumes caused metal fume fever. Jim is now in the hospital in intensive care and gravely ill. I know he would not mind my published the story as a warning to avoid breathing the fumes from burning or welding galvanized metal.
    Editor's Note: A similar warning could be issued for burning off ANY form of coating on metal, such as cadmium-plated hardware (which commonly looks like a gold-anodized coloring on high-grade bolts, nuts and washers) or even any sort of unknown paint (Wayne's note: read lead) Please be careful and remember Jim in your shop...

    Then on page 3 of the Summer 2005 issue Brian Gilbert, the Editor wrote:
    I know I harp about safety a lot in these pages. Sometimes I think I do it a little too much-I feel as if I sound like a nice Jewish grandmother from Yonkers....You!!!Look at you...you're not being as safe as you should be. What's the madda which you?"
    And then...all kidding aside...I hear of the death of a well-loved blacksmith, Jim "Paw-Paw" Wilson. He died this May of complications from metal fume fever, caused by burning zinc-plated parts in his gas forge. (More details from Jock Dempsey on page 6). Jim had many friends through his regular postings on Anvilfire.com.
    So it is in his memory that we must make ourselves aware of all the dangers and hazards in the blacksmith's shop. Blacksmithing is fun, but it's not worth dying for, and I think it is far better to be overcautious in the shop. Jim has shown us the possible price when we're not overcautious, and the price he has paid-and the price his family and friends have paid-is far, far to high.
    So even though I can be a little irritating, I want everyone to THINK safely, ACT safely, and PREACH safe practice in the blacksmith shop until we all sound like Jewish grandmothers.
    The story as continued on page 6:
    Jock Dempsey via Anvilfire.com
    We will never know what Jim was thinking that day. He was probably just trying to get a job done the quickest and easiest way he knew how.
    The parts were 2.5" galvanized pipe. They were to be welded up a part of a stock rack, we think. To weld them they needed the galvanizing removed.
    Jim burned off the zinc with his gas forge.
    Burning zinc looks similar to burning magnesium. It flares off white zinc oxide smoke and leaves heavy soot-like yellow and white oxide deposits where the smoke cools. In the metal working shop we are often exposed to small amounts of zinc smoke without ill effect. It is common in brazing, casting brass and occasionally welding.
    This, however, was not a small amount of zinc smoke. It was thick enough in his well-ventilated shop that Jim wisely sent his helpers outside. Why he stayed, we will never know.
    There was so much zinc that it reacted with the refractory lining causing the ITC coating to flake off. Around the door gasket area there were 1/16" thick deposits of zinc oxide. There is no question that Jim was exposed to significant amounts of zinc oxide smoke as he removed the flaming parts from the forge and quenched them.
    Two weeks later, when the forge was fired up, it was still generating zinc smoke and fumes.
    After this event Paw-Paw was very ill for a couple days. He thought he was over it, and went on a road trip. With in week after the exposure, he came down with double pneumonia and had to be brought home. A week later he was dead.
    Prior to this Paw-Paw had problems with emphysema and this is a factor in his case. However metal fume fever can kill the young and healthy or leave lasting effects.

    On page 6 of the Fall 2005 issue there was this letter to the Editor:
    Drink Your Milk by Nahum Hersom, Boise, Idaho.
    After reading about Jim Wilson's death in the last issue, Nahum wanted me to relay the old-time remedy for metal fume fever...milk, and lots of it. It seems that the calcium in milk helps remove metals from the bloodstream. Two large glasses per day isn't too much, and it helps to drink it before exposure....but it is no substitute for proper ventilation or other protection (like gloves and a respirator) when working with any potentially harmful metals.

    Wayne's note: Yes, this is an extreme case and PAW PAW knew better. Don't blow this off just because PAW PAW was burning A LOT of zinc off. A little bit can be bad too. Just don't do it. Have I frightened you enough tonight? Good!

    Wayne Coe
    729Peters Ford Road
    Sunbright, Tennessee 37872

    "Moe" Official Shop Dog

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Dec 2009
    Thank you Wayne... I'm a long way off from burning anything in a forge at the moment, but never knew this danger;
    now I do.
    I'm going to keep track of all the hazards that are brought up here on KD,
    along with every-day common sense ones,print em off and post 'em prominently at the entrance
    when I get a proper shop up and running.
    "Functional elegance in everyday tools".

    "The Path of the Strong Blade
    is paved with the shards of the weak"

    Ode to Living Steel

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jun 2010
    Eclectic, AL
    I know one thing, welding it is a total pain in the rear. I always blow a fan on a what I'm welding or in the general direction to put the fumes going that way. I usually have problem with shielding gas (MIG/TIG) but I don't ever do much of it at a time. I can't ever remember any big long jobs with the stuff. I knew you could get sick from it, but i didn't know it could be that bad.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Aug 2009
    Da Bronx NY
    Great post Wayne!!

    I was going to start a thread about if a Respirator should be worn while forging Carbon steel?

    Didn't Shawn McWilliams get ill from forging stainless steels?
    Please Visit: www.stabberssteelconnection.com

    Got Siska's

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