Galvanised steel is used in a variety of objects, such as hair dryers, cars, and framing for everyday houses. Galvanising is taking steel and covering it with zinc for protection against the environment, especially rust. In order to melt zinc for coating, it needs to be heated between 426 degrees C and 482 degrees C; this releases fumes that have a chemical reaction when exposed to oxygen, forming zinc oxide.
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Zinc Oxide Safety
When galvanising, the zinc oxide that is released can cause health problems to those who inhale it, get it on their skin or eyes, or even ingest it. Although non-toxic and in small quantities completely harmless, when inhaled in large amounts zinc oxide can cause respiratory distress. It is important to cover your skin fully and find a proper mask to cover your mouth and nose for protection.
Lead in Zinc
Standard zinc for melting and coating mostly likely has lead it in naturally. When melted, the fumes released from the traces of lead are far more toxic than zinc oxide and can cause severe long-term health problems, even brain damage. To avoid this additional safety issue, it is possible to obtain pure zinc, which has no traces of lead.
The first step when working with galvanised steel is acquiring a mask that properly fits. If the mask does not sit correctly and seal itself against your skin, zinc oxide can easily get through the small openings. Painters' masks usually provide enough protection; however, if working with zinc that has a high lead content, a "personal environment" is needed. These masks are air-pumping helmets with a cloth shroud to cover the pocket between your head and neck, providing you with fresh air.
Galvanising steel exposes the builder to extremely high temperatures. Zinc melts at approximately 787 degree F; however, for galvanising steel, zinc can reach up to 482 degrees C. Wearing heat-resistant clothing, especially gloves, is a necessary safety requirement when handling any metal or alloy at extreme temperatures.
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