Metal fume fever is a condition in which the sufferer has influenza type symptoms - a raised temperature, chills, aches and pains, nausea and dizziness. It is caused by exposure to the fume of certain metals - commonly zinc. Other metals that have been reported to bring on the symptoms of metal fume fever include copper and cadmium.
The symptoms start to appear several hours after exposure. Metal fume fever arising from exposure to zinc fume is transient, and recovery is usually complete within a few days. However exposure to some metal fume, such as cadmium, can cause more serious illness, or even death.
Although cadmium is not used any longer as a metal coating, it can still be found on older installations. Exposure to cadmium fumes can occur during welding repairs/maintenance or oxy-gas cutting arising from decommissioning operations.
It is desirable to prevent exposure to such fume altogether by the use of efficient fume extraction. Any surface coatings on steel must be identified before welding or cutting. Coatings of zinc or cadmium will require special consideration, and if welding is taking place, the coating should be removed either side of the weld and far enough back to prevent the generation of any fumes. In some circumstances, breathing apparatus may be required.