Zinc Fever: A Look At The Risks Of Working With Hot Metal

For as raucous as things can get in the comments section of Hackaday articles, we really love the give and take that happens there. Our readers have an astonishing breadth of backgrounds and experiences, and the fact that everyone so readily shares those experiences and the strongly held opinions that they engender is what makes this community so strong and so useful.

But with so many opinions and experiences being shared, it’s sometimes hard to cut through to the essential truth of an issue. This is particularly true where health and safety are at issue, a topic where it’s easy to get bogged down by an accumulation of anecdotes that mask the underlying biology. Case in point: I recently covered a shop-built tool cabinet build and made an off-hand remark about the inadvisability of welding zinc-plated drawer slides, having heard about the dangers of inhaling zinc fumes once upon a time. That led to a discussion in the comments section on both sides of the issue that left the risks of zinc-fume inhalation somewhat unclear.

To correct this, I decided to take a close look at the risks involved with welding and working zinc. As a welding wannabe, I’m keenly interested in anything that helps me not die in the shop, and as a biology geek, I’m also fascinated by the molecular mechanisms of diseases. I’ll explore both of these topics as we look at the dreaded¬† “zinc fever” and how to avoid it.

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On Not Getting Metal Fume Fever With Galvanized Conduit

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You can find galvanized steel pipes at Home Depots and construction sites all around the world. These relatively thin-walled steel pipes would make for great structural members if it weren’t for the fact they were covered in a protective layer of zinc. This layer of galvanization lends itself to crappy welds and some terrible fumes, but badass, TV personality, and hacker extraordinaire [Hackett] shows us how to strip the galvanization off these pipes¬†with chemicals available at any hardware store.

Since the galvanization on these pipes covers the inside and the outside, grinding the small layer of zinc off these pipes is difficult at best. To be sure he gets all the zinc off this pipe, [Hackett] decided to chemically strip the pipes with a cup full of muriatic acid.

The process is simple enough – fill a cup with acid, dunk the ends of the pipes, and clean everything up with baking soda. A great way to turn scrap pipe into a usable material, make a cool paper mache volcano, and avoid ‘ol galvie flu

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