Metal fume fever is an acute allergic condition experienced by many welders during their career lifetimes. It is primarily caused by exposure to zinc oxide fume (ZnO) in the workplace.
The main source of exposure is breathing fumes that are produced from welding, cutting, or brazing on galvanized metal. Because galvanized steel is becoming more common in the industry, welders are working with it more frequently. Copper and magnesium may cause similar effects.
When overexposed to zinc oxide fumes, a welder will experience a flu-like illness (metal fume fever). Symptoms of metal fume fever include:
The current OSHA standard for zinc oxide fume is 5 milligrams of zinc oxide fume per cubic meter of air (mg/m3) averaged over an eight–hour work shift.
NIOSH recommends that the permissible exposure limit be changed to 5 mg/m3 averaged over a work shift of up to 10 hours per day, 40 hours per week, with a Short–Term Exposure Limit (STEL) of 10 mg/m3 averaged over a 15–minute period.