Laser Dust & Engraving Fumes: Are They Health Hazards

Lasers are used for laser cutting and for engraving metal. These lasers are high-powered tools that, when used on metal, release some of the elements present in the metal alloy into the air. The air immediately around the laser expands due to the high temperatures created by the laser. The combination of released metal material and expanding air creates fumes that can be irritating.

But are they truly harmful, and if so, what can be done about it? Let’s look at how laser fumes affect human health.

Are Laser Fumes Health Hazards?

The answer to this question is a quick and resounding yes. The fumes generated by the laser cutting or engraving process contain elements and particles that are toxic to humans and other animals.

How does laser cutting and engraving create fumes? Lasers produce a high-energy beam that is hot enough to cut metal. When metal is cut this way, chemical reactions happen that release elements present in the alloy into the surrounding air.

Great caution must be taken while using a laser cutter, as the fumes are not safe to breathe.

What Are The Side Effects Of Laser Fume Exposure?

Some side effects of laser fume exposure include:

Irritation. Exposure to several chemicals can be irritating to the eyes, nose, mouth, and skin.

Buildup of toxic chemicals in the body over time. Lead is present in some metal alloys, and the chemical reaction caused by laser cutting can release the lead into the air. Exposure to this lead may cause lead poisoning over time. Cadmium is another element that can build up in the body and cause kidney problems.

Metal fume fever. This is caused by zinc fumes, which can be released when cutting certain steel alloys. Symptoms of metal fume fever are similar to that of the flu: fever, chills, aches, and fits of coughing.

Exposure to carcinogens. One particularly nasty particle, hexavalent chromium, has been shown to cause cancer in addition to causing several immediate side effects such as skin sores and irritation of the eyes, nose, and mouth.

All in all exposure to laser fumes is a serious hazard and could lead to serious illness or death. So how can we reduce the risk to our workers’ health?

Why Fume Extractors Help Reduce The Health Hazard

All workers must wear personal protective equipment (PPE) when operating a laser cutter. Although this is important, it’s not quite sufficient.

Not only that, but all workshops that use laser cutters must be properly outfitter with filtration systems. Again, highly important but not sufficient to reduce the risk to OSHA acceptable levels.

OSHA has permissible exposure limits (PELs) for many of the chemicals released into the air during the laser cutting process. Staying compliant with their protocols is important, not only to stay within the law but to protect workers. For this reason, workshops that do laser cutting or engraving need to invest in fume extractors.

Fume extractors are placed in the work area and serve to extract fumes with dangerous chemicals from the air. This way, the worker is not exposed to nearly as many heavy metals and toxins.

Want to learn more about our fume extraction systems for laser cutting? Check out our laser fume extraction systems.

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