Author Topic: Health issues due to soldering fumes.  (Read 1798 times)

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Offline paul8f

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Health issues due to soldering fumes.
« on: April 01, 2020, 01:04:18 pm »
Hi all,

as a teenager I spent hours and hours in my bedroom putting veroboard projects together and tinkering around with devices as many of us did when we were younger. The trouble is that I was the eldest sibling, and neither of my parents had a clue as to what electronics involved, never-mind the health&safety aspects of my hobby (...which later went on to become my career).

With no mentor or guidance, I proceeded to do a lot of 60/40 soldering in a small room with no filter fan or air extraction unit. I at least had the common sense to crack the top window opening, and blow the fumes away while soldering, but I don't think these practices were enough. Now approaching 40, I can't do 30 seconds worth of soldering without getting a headache, and instantly becoming totally run down with tiredness. The combination of these two symptoms I suppose you could compare to 'brain-fog.' I am currently working in the opto-electronics industry where I can avoid soldering, but I am very eager to get back to my first love of electronic debug and repair. The stress of not doing a job that I like is slowly killing me, and I urgently need to change something.

So my question is regarding how I should proceed with getting on top of these health issues... Has anyone ever been tested for chronic heavy-metal poisoning, what's involved, and if it's treatable what are the options available? (Not sure what I'm going to do with the current restrictions regarding the coronavirus COVID-19 crisis, but now is the time for me to gather all the advice that I can.) Please, please share your experiences or stories. I'd appreciate any weblinks too that may help.

Thanks, Paul.
 

Offline Siwastaja

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Re: Health issues due to soldering fumes.
« Reply #1 on: April 01, 2020, 01:24:28 pm »
You don't get chronic heavy-metal poisoning from the soldering fumes; there are very little metals in the fumes. Boiling point for lead is 1749 degC. However, the smoke from the burning flux can still wreak havoc in your lungs. After the corona crisis is over, see a doctor, don't try to self-diagnose it.
 
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Offline blueskull

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Re: Health issues due to soldering fumes.
« Reply #2 on: April 01, 2020, 01:25:38 pm »
Lead doesn't boil off at any reasonable temperature. The fume is mostly flux. Theoretically lead can get oxidized and the nano oxide particle gets carried by larger flux particles in the smoke, but that's highly unlikely since the flux is there to prevent oxidation and to reduce oxidized layer to promote wetting.
 
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Offline EEEnthusiast

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Re: Health issues due to soldering fumes.
« Reply #3 on: April 01, 2020, 01:45:32 pm »
I have had the exact same issues and I though the same 'lead poisoning', but I was wrong. I had been a hobbyist from my childhood and started soldering very early and for long times. I started to see these problems when I reached mid 30s. I used to develop  a head ache after soldering for about 15 minutes. With some rest it used to be OK and then it came back again. I was worried and did not know what to do. I figured out the problem by myself after a long struggle.

1. Test your eyesight. You may have a very small positive power in your eyes which may cause nearby work to be difficult. In my case, the power in my eye was + 0.5 and +0.25 with some cylindrical power as well. These may seen small, but when you do close work for long time you may start getting eye strain and head aches. I had glasses on after the diagnosis and my head aches went away.
Make sure that the doctor dilates your pupils before the testing. Without dilation, you eye will compensate for the focal length and detecting small positive powers may be not possible.

2. Quit alcohol : I had formed the habit of drinking beer almost daily. With even smaller amounts of alcohol, the muscles in the body gets relaxed and the neurons fire slowly. The muscles controlling your eye's lenses are no exception to this. They also get weaker and loose their ability to focus at short distance. If you are into drinking alcohol, just abstain from that for a couple of weeks and check the difference. I'm sure you would see some positive change.

3. Amount of light : Add a bright light on your bench and focus it on the soldering area. It can do wonders for your eyes.

4. Use a magnifier when working with really small components like 0402 and fine pitch QFP ICs.

5. Quit coffee : Caffeine can mess up with some peoples eyesight.

6. Try green tea : Having green tea has really boosted my eyesight. Now I am without glasses for over 2 years. I am not 100% sure if it is only the green tea which has contributed to it, but from my personal experience, it has helped a lot. It is a powerful anti oxidant and stress reliever.  It can help cure your eye muscle fatigue when taken over long duration. It may take months before you see a difference. Just 2 cups a day for 1 month should be enough to notice some result.

7. Cut down sugar and switch to honey for your tea.

These may seem medical advises, but these have worked for me. I wish you the best.
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Offline Kilo Tango

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Re: Health issues due to soldering fumes.
« Reply #4 on: April 01, 2020, 02:00:14 pm »
You might want to get checked out for Asthama, https://www.hse.gov.uk/lung-disease/electronics-soldering.htm .

I speak from experience.

Ken
 
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Offline Zero999

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Re: Health issues due to soldering fumes.
« Reply #5 on: April 01, 2020, 02:30:57 pm »
Lead free solder is much worse for the lungs, than leaded because it has a much stronger flux. A clueless health and safety manager where I work wanted us to move over to unleaded solder (we're exempt from RoHS regulations), but we managed to persuade him that it's not the lead that's the problem.
 
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Offline Gyro

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Re: Health issues due to soldering fumes.
« Reply #6 on: April 01, 2020, 03:38:02 pm »
If you do Forum searches for 'solder fumes' and 'Lead fumes' you will get a lot of thread hits. This question comes up a lot.  ;)
« Last Edit: April 01, 2020, 03:42:26 pm by Gyro »
Chris

"Victor Meldrew, the Crimson Avenger!"
 

Online m98

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Re: Health issues due to soldering fumes.
« Reply #7 on: April 01, 2020, 04:46:35 pm »
You might've been sensitised to rosin through long and frequent exposure. Not too much you can do about that, apart from general health measures such as adjusting your diet, enough physical exercise, reducing overall stress, etc. You should also talk to your doctor about it.

Use a good fume extractor for soldering to reduce the exposure, and try different fluxes, as you might not be as sensitive to many "no-clean" types.
 
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Offline jmelson

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Re: Health issues due to soldering fumes.
« Reply #8 on: April 01, 2020, 04:47:40 pm »

1. Test your eyesight.

Oh WOW!  This is brilliant!  Yes, I've always been nearsigted (seriously so, my eyes focus about 5" away without glasses).
But, if I do any fine task with small parts for more than a couple minutes, I get into a condition where I can't focus on anything
farther away, even with my glasses.  it takes a half hour to recover.  So, for any extended project, I use either a flip-down magnifying visor for not-so-small stuff, or a stereo zoom microscope for SMT soldering.  These get rid of the eye strain issue, and I can work for hours with little
problem.

Now, in my particular case, i don't get a "headache" from doing it without the optical aids, but I can easily see how others might get one.
And, maybe if I forced myself to do the close-up tasks without the aids, I might get into a headache, too.

Jon
 

Offline jogri

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Re: Health issues due to soldering fumes.
« Reply #9 on: April 01, 2020, 04:57:56 pm »
Now approaching 40, I can't do 30 seconds worth of soldering without getting a headache, and instantly becoming totally run down with tiredness. The combination of these two symptoms I suppose you could compare to 'brain-fog.'

Well, you are basically breathing a nasty cocktail of organic chemicals that are created when the flux gets vaporized and partly oxydized. I experienced the same symptoms when i was working in an organic chemistry lab for the first time, it kicked in almost instantly and made it nearly impossible to work efficiently. It got better over the course of 1-2 weeks and completely vanished after two weeks, but it wasn't a fun experience.

You could go to a doctor, but i don't think that he can tell you more than "just don't use it if it makes you sick". So your options are either to try and ignore the symptoms (and hope that they go away) or use solder that doesn't contain rosin/flux, combined with a flux pen that has a minimal amount of resin.
 

Offline Kleinstein

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Re: Health issues due to soldering fumes.
« Reply #10 on: April 01, 2020, 05:02:15 pm »
The issue with the soldering fumes is a little similar to smoking cigarettes or the new modern evaporators. The organic material gets partially burned decomposed and this includes some tar like substances. Another issue may Acrolein that can be part of the decomposition products. This is why the filter should be more than just a mechanical filter, but also include some activated coal.

Still don't panic - you may get the same stuff with meat from the grill.
 

Offline blueskull

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Re: Health issues due to soldering fumes.
« Reply #11 on: April 01, 2020, 05:15:04 pm »
Still don't panic - you may get the same stuff with meat from the grill.

That's the point. It's all about quantity.
If the OP does production line soldering, by all means go for the best protection.
But for prototyping, the actual "hot" time (where the tip melts solder) should be fairly low, unless you are a full time technician.
Let's assume 30 mins of "hot" time is safe per week.

FYI, a single joint (SMT or THT) takes around 1.5 secs of "hot" time, so 15 min should allow you to solder at least 600 joints.
An average BGA/QFN takes 15 secs to solder, and assuming average pin count is 100, then "hot" time per pin is 0.15s.

Assuming one design has 4 BGA/QFN chips and 50 discrete parts (100 joints), the total "hot" time per board is only 3.5 mins.
Assuming 100% reworking rate, that's still only 7 mins.
Assuming you build 2 prototypes per design, that's 14 mins per design.

I can hardly see how can anyone come up with 2 full designs per week.
 

Online SiliconWizard

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Re: Health issues due to soldering fumes.
« Reply #12 on: April 01, 2020, 05:23:19 pm »
May sound obvious, but just use a decent fume extractor. Won't cut off your exposure to some fumes completely, but enough that it won't matter.

As to leaded solder wire... I think the most critical issue with them is not the fumes, it's just touching it - after years of that, not that great. And don't touch your mouth while you're soldering. Of course it's relatively easy to mitigate the risk. Just don't touch your face at all when you're soldering, possibly wear latex gloves if you're really concerned... or at least wash your hands well when you're done.

One habit that I've seen (especially in older guys) is that some people would sometimes hold soldering wires with their mouth. Yep. Just don't do that.
 

Offline blueskull

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Re: Health issues due to soldering fumes.
« Reply #13 on: April 01, 2020, 05:27:47 pm »
One habit that I've seen (especially in older guys) is that some people would sometimes hold soldering wires with their mouth. Yep. Just don't do that.

I had this bad habit :palm:.
I also found JBC tips get corroded quickly by leaded solder.
And I do a lot of SAC305 BGAs, and mixed solder is always a bad thing.
So anyway I stay away from leaded solder.
 

Offline not1xor1

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Re: Health issues due to soldering fumes.
« Reply #14 on: April 01, 2020, 05:32:02 pm »
you (paul8f) might use an air purifier
they usually have various kind of filters (usually at least coarse + carbon + HEPA)
I got a Philips model and am quite satisfied

there are lots of manufacturers and models and you should be able to find lot of reviews and tests on the net
« Last Edit: April 01, 2020, 05:33:33 pm by not1xor1 »
 

Offline janoc

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Re: Health issues due to soldering fumes.
« Reply #15 on: April 01, 2020, 05:57:29 pm »
Hi all,

as a teenager I spent hours and hours in my bedroom putting veroboard projects together and tinkering around with devices as many of us did when we were younger. The trouble is that I was the eldest sibling, and neither of my parents had a clue as to what electronics involved, never-mind the health&safety aspects of my hobby (...which later went on to become my career).

With no mentor or guidance, I proceeded to do a lot of 60/40 soldering in a small room with no filter fan or air extraction unit. I at least had the common sense to crack the top window opening, and blow the fumes away while soldering, but I don't think these practices were enough. Now approaching 40, I can't do 30 seconds worth of soldering without getting a headache, and instantly becoming totally run down with tiredness. The combination of these two symptoms I suppose you could compare to 'brain-fog.' I am currently working in the opto-electronics industry where I can avoid soldering, but I am very eager to get back to my first love of electronic debug and repair. The stress of not doing a job that I like is slowly killing me, and I urgently need to change something.

So my question is regarding how I should proceed with getting on top of these health issues... Has anyone ever been tested for chronic heavy-metal poisoning, what's involved, and if it's treatable what are the options available? (Not sure what I'm going to do with the current restrictions regarding the coronavirus COVID-19 crisis, but now is the time for me to gather all the advice that I can.) Please, please share your experiences or stories. I'd appreciate any weblinks too that may help.

Thanks, Paul.

If you had heavy metal (lead) poisoning, you would have those symptoms all the time, not only while soldering. Lead and similar accumulate in your body and poison you over time, not only when you encounter fumes. Another thing is that getting lead poisoning from soldering is pretty much unheard of, even factory workers that solder the entire shift, every day or operate the wave soldering machines were not found to have elevated lead levels in their bodies.

Your issues sound more like an eye strain, as some others have pointed out already (I am starting to have those issues too unless I use magnification - we aren't getting any younger!) and maybe your body isn't liking the flux fumes. Either because you got sensitive to them (or even allergic!) over time or because you are using a particularly nasty flux/solder wire (not all fluxes are made equal - the classic rosin flux is an irritant but some synthetic fluxes are way worse).
« Last Edit: April 01, 2020, 06:05:44 pm by janoc »
 

Offline VK3DRB

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Re: Health issues due to soldering fumes.
« Reply #16 on: April 05, 2020, 02:29:55 am »
The old corrosive fluxes were definitely bad for your lungs, and I used to wheeze a bit when doing a lot of soldering, but I was fine. These days, fluxes are pretty safe.

As for lead solder, I love the stuff. Been soldering for 45 years with 60/40 lead/tin. NO PROBLEMS!

The old TVs had a heat sink thermal compound containing beryllium oxide.  Yep, used that stuff a bit in the early days. NO PROBLEMS!

Now the IBM old unit record machines (models 082, 083, 548, 557, 519, 514) which I used to work on when I first started at IBM contained capacitors containing polychlorobiphenyls. Highly carcinogenic and incredibly toxic. NO PROBLEMS!

Not the mention the myriad of toxic chemicals I used at IBM (tape cleaner), and that one of the IBM customers (Siemens in Richmond, Melbourne) has asbestos dust chunks falling from the ceiling and filling the fans and vents of the mainframe I occasionally had to vacuum out. NO PROBLEMS!

Oh yes, the IBM plant in Wangaratta. Carcinogenic bromides given off when a PCB caught fire. NO PROBLEMS!

At home I sprayed with Dieldrin, DDT, Roundup etc. I once sprayed my Holden 186 red motor in a tiny shed with lead-based red paint without a mask, coating my lungs with lead paint. Bloody idiot thought I was invincible. NO PROBLEMS!

...SO FAR!
 

Offline james_s

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Re: Health issues due to soldering fumes.
« Reply #17 on: April 05, 2020, 02:45:52 am »
If it was years ago there are likely not any effects now that you'd be able to link to the soldering with any certainty. Even long-time cigarette smokers' lungs largely recover eventually after they quit.

I've long had a habit of blowing gently as I solder to deflect the smoke away from my face and prevent inhaling it. More recently I got a little benchtop extractor with a hose and a carbon filter in the base, it makes it a lot less hassle and the lady doesn't complain anymore if I solder something on the coffee table while watching TV. I should have bought or built something like it years ago.
 

Offline EEEnthusiast

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Re: Health issues due to soldering fumes.
« Reply #18 on: April 05, 2020, 04:41:27 am »
Checking the eyes is the easiest and fastest thing which can rule out many other issues. I had the same brain fog effect after few minutes of soldering and I was also worried if my brain had been fried due to years of lead use. But I was lucky to get the issue identified and fix it.

Fumes may produce asthma or breathing difficulties..and a head ache if you are allergic to some fumes.
A simplest thing is to try out other close up work to see if the same symptoms appear.
Good luck.
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Offline Electro Detective

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Re: Health issues due to soldering fumes.
« Reply #19 on: April 05, 2020, 05:23:32 am »
The solder you are using and or the flux in it may be crap,

and or the soldering iron may be running too hot,

or breathing in idle tip burning crusty residues  etc

Also what you are soldering to may be giving off a combo of nasty fumes with the solder, that don't agree with you

Next time try soldering with protective eyeware , thin gloves

and wear one of those cheap face masks that are USELESS for the Corona virass, yet good enough for direct solder fumes in your face


If that fails on improvement, it's time to consider knocking up a cheap tacky DIY fume extraction setup

Good luck  :-+


 
EDIT:
"Next time try soldering with protective eyeware , thin gloves"

Clarified sentence >  "Next time try soldering with protective eyeware , thin LEATHER or fire resist gloves

FYI >  test  ~burn~ the gloves BEFORE putting them on  :scared:

« Last Edit: April 05, 2020, 10:05:57 pm by Electro Detective »
 

Offline jogri

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Re: Health issues due to soldering fumes.
« Reply #20 on: April 05, 2020, 10:22:50 am »
Next time try soldering with protective eyeware , thin gloves

and wear one of those cheap face masks that are USELESS for the Corona virass, yet good enough for direct solder fumes in your face

Please don't do that, soldering while wearing rubber gloves is a good way to get yourself into the emergency room... A burn might hurt for a while, but having molten plastic inside a wound is a totally different story.
Btw, at a guess i'd say that the normal face mask won't do anything against the fumes: We are dealing with gases, those particles are way too small to get blocked by the mask. You would need a mask that has a layer of activated carbon, and those masks are long gone.
 

Offline Nauris

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Re: Health issues due to soldering fumes.
« Reply #21 on: April 05, 2020, 03:51:52 pm »
There seems to be big difference between brands too. Bought some small spool of Stannol solder and it makes me cough and feel ill immediately. Smoke it makes is just so terrible I can't use it at all. But my two decades old spool of Multicore solder, no such symptoms. Both are lead-free, so the difference is not in that. But anyway I use solderless breadboard usually.
 
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Offline jmelson

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Re: Health issues due to soldering fumes.
« Reply #22 on: April 05, 2020, 04:48:08 pm »
Next time try soldering with protective eyeware , thin gloves


Please don't do that, soldering while wearing rubber gloves is a good way to get yourself into the emergency room... A burn might hurt for a while, but having molten plastic inside a wound is a totally different story.
Well, it would be extremely rare to have an accident where an electronics soldering iron pierced the skin.  I have gotten VERY good at always knowing where the tip of the iron is, and also gotten my reaction time down to where if anything touches me unexpectedly I swing the soldering iron away from my hands.  Maybe once a year I touch my hand with the iron, and almost never get a burn as I pull it away SUPER fast.
That's a skill to develop if you are going to be doing this a lot.  When soldering under the microscope, the area I'm working on is in the field of view, but my hands and most of the soldering iron are NOT, so you just need to know where your hands and the iron are.

Still, for protection from heavy metals, just wash you hands after soldering, it will all come off.

Jon
 
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Offline james_s

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Re: Health issues due to soldering fumes.
« Reply #23 on: April 05, 2020, 05:21:39 pm »
Now the IBM old unit record machines (models 082, 083, 548, 557, 519, 514) which I used to work on when I first started at IBM contained capacitors containing polychlorobiphenyls. Highly carcinogenic and incredibly toxic. NO PROBLEMS!

PCB oil is not especially toxic, and it won't give you cancer to just touch the stuff, I knew some old utility guys who used to wade in vaults of the stuff. It's actually very inert and that is part of the problem with it. When it leaks out onto the ground as utility transformers occasionally do, or ends up in a landfill and eventually leaks, it doesn't break down. It sticks around for a very long time and eventually ends up in the groundwater. It gets into your body where it also doesn't break down and eventually can cause problems, that's the issue with it.
 

Offline jogri

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Re: Health issues due to soldering fumes.
« Reply #24 on: April 05, 2020, 05:55:35 pm »
PCB oil is not especially toxic, and it won't give you cancer to just touch the stuff, I knew some old utility guys who used to wade in vaults of the stuff.

It all depends on which congener you touch... There are a bunch that can interact with the same receptors as dioxins, and those are toxic af and there are other congeners that can't do that and are rather harmless. But since PCB oil is a mixture of multiple different congeners (you can't separate them easily and why should you if all have the same physical properties) you don't know the portion of toxic molecules. You could be lucky and have a manufacturer whose reactors just happen to only create the non-toxic variant, but this could change with their next batch...

And messing around with substances that can interact with your hormon system (dioxins) is a really, really bad idea.
 


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