One interesting topic of discussion among rookie welders is: why do welders drink milk? There are many interpretations as to why welders consume it! Sadly, those theories are not scientifically proven.
The main purpose of drinking milk is linked to welding fumes. Most welders believe that the consumption of milk will help prevent the toxins in the fumes from entering the body. Hence, preventing metal fume fever and other such conditions.
However, as I said, most of these beliefs are just myths and have no scientific evidence to back them up. So, does drinking milk actually prevent metal fume fever? Do welders get any advantages from drinking milk? If this piques your curiosity, let’s find out.
Welding requires the cutting and joining of metal parts using a flame or some other source of heat. And the metal parts that get cut are usually galvanized. Due to the high heat of welding, these galvanized metals release fumes as vapors.
Basically, galvanization is the process of coating a metal with zinc so that it can act as a barrier between the inner metal and outer moisture. This is done to prevent metal corrosion or rusting. This ensures that metal will last for a long time even after being exposed to air.
However, heating galvanized metal forms fumes as zinc has a lower melting temperature than most metals. So, as you weld a galvanized metal, the zinc layer vaporizes and produces fumes called welding fumes. And inhaling these fumes is unpleasant for the body.
Welding metals create fumes that produce certain metal oxide gases when they react with oxygen in the air. Inhaling these welding fumes causes a person to experience some flu-like symptoms. These symptoms are indications of metal fume fever (MFF).
As the zinc layer vaporizes in the air during welding, it forms zinc oxide by reacting with the oxygen molecules present around it. After inhaling these fumes, a person can feel nausea, muscle aches, headaches, chills, and fever- symptoms indicating MFF. One can see these symptoms within a few hours of exposure and they can last for about a day or two.
On the other hand, as a person gets frequent exposure to metal fumes, they grow a tolerance towards them. And this tolerance lasts as long as the person gets continuous exposure to such fumes. Once the exposure halts, the symptoms can start to appear again. Nonetheless, it’s not a deadly disease, and its treatment is easy once the symptoms appear.
Some welders believe that drinking milk helps them get rid of the toxins they inhale while welding galvanized steel. Therefore, preventing welders from feeling nauseous, headaches, and fever, all of which are indications of metal fume fever.
Essentially, the logic behind drinking milk is that once someone consumes the liquid, calcium will get absorbed from it. Then, this calcium will occupy the empty spots that zinc would’ve filled up. Once calcium fills these spots, the metal oxides, and other toxins will have no place for themselves and have a lower chance of invading the body.
According to welders, another way of dealing with inhaling toxic metal fumes is to keep milk in the mouth while welding. Once the welding is done, they’ll spit out the milk. They believe the milk will act as a filter to not let the toxins enter the body.
Basically, milk will absorb the toxins and remove them from the body once it gets spit out. But, does it actually work? Let’s find out!
Many welders believe drinking milk has helped them protect themselves against welding fumes. Although this works to some degree, technically there’s no correlation between the two.
As you see, two different organ systems handle the digestion of milk and the inhalation of toxins from metal fumes. Hence, their function and effect are highly unlikely to overlap.
The digestive system handles the consumption and digestion of milk. In this system, the stomach absorbs calcium and other nutrients from milk and sends them to where the body needs them.
On the other hand, the respiratory system deals with inhaling and absorbing metal fumes, where the lungs absorb the toxic gases and spread them into the bloodstream.
Hence, calcium’s “filling up” the space for toxins to attack doesn’t add up. So, does drinking milk prevent the infiltration of welding fumes into your body? Well, scientifically, there’s no solid backup.
Hence, welders should instead look for better prevention and cure methods to protect themselves against welding fume and metal fume fever.
The first and foremost protection you need to take against welding fumes is to reduce your exposure time. According to OSHA, during an average eight-hour shift, a person is allowed to be exposed to 5 milligrams of zinc oxide fume (mg/m3). Exceeding this limit will result in fatigue and other indications of metal fume fever showing up.
To prevent the toxins of metal fumes from building up inside your body while you’re welding, you have to move your body away from the fumes as much as possible, and you must protect your head and keep it away from the fumes. You also have to use local exhaust and ventilation to remove fumes and gases away from your breathing zone.
If you operate with galvanized steel on a regular basis, you must also wear safety equipment such as an authorized respirator. You should wear respirators that have gotten approval from MSHA (Mine Safety and Health Administration) or NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health).
Alternatively, the grinding process can remove zinc from a metal’s surface for a safe welding session. Although the metal will lose its protective layer, you can add it later after welding is completed. This entire process will take some extra time, but hey, prevention is better than cure.
You can treat metal fume fever like the common cold. Getting enough hydration is key. And, catching up on rest is also long overdue. All the symptoms of metal fume fever usually subside on their own within 2 days of detection, at max.
For headaches, muscle aches, fever, and other pains, you can seek prescriptions under medical supervision. Medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, aspirin, or ibuprofen should be sufficient to treat the symptoms. If the symptoms get severe, it’s best to seek immediate medical attention.
Milk, in itself, is a very nutritious food that is good for the body. Drinking milk provides one with energy. Drinking milk also stacks up on necessary nutrients the body needs, like calcium, etc. However, there’s no specific advantage to consuming milk as a welder.
But, even though there’s no medically proven advantage to drinking milk exclusively for welders, that shouldn’t disqualify the experience of many welders who swear by it. If drinking milk regularly helps protect them against welding fume and metal fume fever, even if it’s make-believe, so be it.
I hope this article was able to provide an answer to your question: why do welders drink milk? While the advantages of drinking milk prior to welding are up for debate, it’s not all too bad to indulge in some milk frequently. After all, it’s good for your overall health. Thanks for stopping by!