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Soldering is a highly important activity in the world today. A huge variety of industries use soldering in their manufacturing process, from jewelry to construction to electronics. As a result, the health effects of soldering have been well studied in order to better protect workers from potential harm.
It turns out that solder fumes can be toxic to humans and prolonged exposure to them can cause serious chronic health problems and make other chronic conditions worse. So why is this, and what can be done about it?
Solder fumes are metal vapors expelled into the air as a result of the heat + pressure of soldering. So why does this happen?
Soldering itself is the process of melting metal alloys in order to form a bond. As a result, the solder flux turns into a gas and releases these fumes into the air.
Breathing in anything that isn’t air is generally not going to be particularly good for your health. However, solder fumes contain heavy metals which are toxic to humans. As a result, the consensus is that solder fumes represent a serious occupational health hazard, and workers should be protected from these effects through proper ventilation, fume capture, and personal protective equipment (PPE).
The health effects of soldering fumes highly depend on which metals are used in the soldering process. All heavy metals can be toxic if ingested, however not all heavy metals are as toxic and the dose required to be toxic can vary. For example, iron is a necessary element of our nutrition yet iron toxicity can occur in humans who ingest too much of it.
Exposure to lead, for example, can cause a whole slew of health problems as lead is a highly toxic element. Acute lead poisoning might not appear, but people exposed to it have a risk of kidney disease, hypertension, and gastrointestinal problems. Beryllium, which is used in some applications, is a known carcinogen.
Metal fume fever, as it’s commonly known, can be caused by exposure to a variety of compounds like copper compounds or zinc oxide (brass). The symptoms are generally flu-like, with fever, aches, chills, nausea, and dizziness.
There are many other elements and compounds that can cause problems. As a result, it’s wise to treat all fumes as toxic and prevent the inhalation of any soldering fumes.
OSHA requires employers to monitor air quality and restrict soldering fume exposure. OSHA enforces the permissible exposure limit (PEL) to help ensure safe working environments.
Proper ventilation throughout the shop is an absolute must. Not to mention, fume capture devices must be used. At IP Systems USA, we provide a variety of mobile and fixed fume capture devices that are excellent for solder fumes.
An employee that does soldering as part of their work will also need to have sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE). A long-sleeve shirt, gloves, pants, and safety goggles will prevent unnecessary contact with hot heavy metals.