This is Why Welders Drink Milk

Have you heard that welders insist on drinking milk? Do you wonder why? We will explore the reason welders drink milk and if it is scientifically based, or a myth.

Welders drink milk to filter out carcinogenic fumes inhaled while welding. It is believed the calcium in milk fills in the spaces toxic metals may otherwise attach to in the human body. Welders use this remedy to avoid Metal Fume Fever.

Does drinking milk actually prevent metal fume fever? Before you grab that glass of milk, let’s explore this concept, and find the facts.

This is Why Welders Drink Milk

Perhaps you have heard a welder say they insist on drinking milk. If so, it is because they have heard milk will prevent metal fume fever. 

What is Metal Fume Fever?

Metal fume fever is caused by inhaling toxic fumes from heated metals. The symptoms are

  • Fever
  • Chills with shaking
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Headache

These symptoms usually occur within 4 to 6 hours of exposure to toxic fumes. Today the most common culprit is zinc. However, welders working with older metals in pipes may be exposed to cadmium, lead, and other toxic metals that may have long term health effects. 

Forster America says,  “According to the ASSE, other common long-term health effects of welding exposure include pulmonary infection and heart disease, respiratory illness, lung and throat cancer, stomach problems, kidney disease, and a variety of neurological problems.”

Symptoms usually subside on their own within 12 to 48 hours, according to Pubmed.gov. It is recommended those suffering effects of metal fume fever:

  • Get plenty of rest
  • Drink a lot of water
  • Use over the counter pain reliever and fever reducer

 Seek medical attention if symptoms are persistent, severe, or you have trouble breathing.

Does Consuming Milk Prevent Metal Fume Fever?

It does not prevent metal fume fever. In fact, drinking milk may actually make the person more susceptible to toxic fume poisoning! According to Safe-Welding, “It’s really just an old wives-tale.”

Why do People Believe Milk will Protect Them from Toxic Fumes? 

According to Welders Source, the idea is that milk will “rid the body of toxins when welding [galvanized steel] thus prevents them from getting sick.”

Some people even believe that holding milk in their mouth while welding will filter these toxic fumes. The problem with this theory is the welder is then breathing through their nose, and any toxins inhaled bypass the milk in their mouth completely.

The Truth About Milk

Since we are talking about drinking milk for the inhalation of toxic fumes from welding, it’s interesting to note that drinking milk when you have a cold will make the phlegm thicker, which could cause a bit more irritation. 

Milk has an interesting way of trapping toxins ingested by dairy cows and can be passed on to humans consuming it. This is why people avoid drinking milk from cows in nuclear fallout areas.

It is also interesting to note that milk is considered one of the leading heavy metal contaminated food sources in our diets; Food Contamination Journal. But, don’t worry milk is still good for you. Most of the contaminants found in cow’s milk are considered safe. As a nearly complete food source it remains an important part of our diet. Milk just is not good for removing contamination from within the human body.

It is difficult to determine when and how the concept of drinking milk would prevent illness from welding fumes. Milk is sometimes given when someone ingests, i.e., swallows, certain toxins. However, milk is not an antidote to poisoning.  Nonetheless, the advice to drink milk to prevent metal fume fever is still passed on to new welders.

How Do You Protect Yourself from Metal Fume Fever 

If you are a welder and working in a factory setting, there are very strict guidelines that your company follows to prevent the workers from inhaling toxic fumes and thus becoming ill. The safety and health fact sheets from the American Welding Society lists 45 different welding issues that can be clicked on and read about  further. 

Fact Sheet Number 1: Fumes and Gases

The very first on the list is fumes and gasses; it briefly describes what fumes and gases are, what they are contained in, such as:

  • Metals
  • Consumables
  • Coatings 
  • Cleaners

The fumes and gases fact sheet also touches on the effects of possible toxicity. To prevent toxicity, it says to:

  • Keep your head out of the fumes 
  • Don’t Breathe Fumes
  • Weld only with ventilation and/or use exhaust in arc and breathing areas
  • If ventilation is of poor quality use personal protective equipment
  • Monitor air quality
  • more

Metal Fume Fever is Fact Sheet Number 25

The metal fume fever fact sheet goes into greater depth explaining this welding hazard. It expresses that metal fume fever is a severe allergic reaction. It is your body’s response to attempt to deal with the invading fumes you have inhaled. 

Fact Sheet Number 38: Respiratory Basics

This fact sheet is about respiratory protection and how to prevent inhaling toxins and other foreign materials while welding.

Depending upon the metals you are working with, and the environment you are working in it is recommended that you use:

The American Welding Society has useful information on the use of respirators and masks. If you are working in a factory OSHA insists that you have training and are properly fitted for your personal protective gear. Your employer is also required to have your health evaluated before you are allowed to use the ppg because some health problems may make wearing this gear dangerous to the individual.

Read Fact Sheet 33 for More Protective Gear and Safety Guidelines

Personal Protective Equipment gives a more in depth perspective on gear and safety while welding. This page talks about:

  • What clothing you should wear while welding
  • What you should not wear
  • Avoid having combustibles on you while welding
  • Use a face shield with safety glasses or goggles
  • Use head and ear protection
  • Wear the proper shoes; Steel toed boots
  • Wear the proper hand protection
  • Wear leather over your clothing. It is more protective from heat and fire.
  • Wear a respirator when needed 

The American Welding society’s fact sheets express the importance of welding safety, often repeating the dangers of inhaling toxic fumes and gases, and how to prevent injury to your body internally and externally.

Safety is Your Number One Priority

When you hear someone say that drinking milk is all you need to do to prevent metal fume fever, you now know this is not true. Having a drink of milk probably won’t hurt you, but it is not going to protect you.

Don’t risk your health. 

  • Work only in properly ventilated areas.
  • Use an air quality monitor
  • Wear the proper protective gear for your welding needs.
  • Know the materials you will be working with and what their chemical makeup is.

Welding can be a hazardous occupation. It is important that you take the necessary precautions to protect yourself and those around you. It is your responsibility to know the dangers involved and how to prevent illness and injury. Take the necessary precautions and don’t rely on the “old wives tale” about milk to protect you.

If you liked this article, have a look at my other articles I wrote about the topic!

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Alexander Berk

A bit about myself: I am a certified international welding engineer (IWE) who worked in different welding projects for TIG, MIG, MAG, and Resistance Spot welding. Most recently as a Process Engineer for Laser and TIG welding processes. To address some of the questions I frequently got asked or was wondering myself during my job, I started this blog. It has become a bit of a pet project, as I want to learn more about the details about welding. I sincerely hope it will help you to improve your welding results as much as it did improve mine.

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