We’re excited to bring you today’s guest blog from William G. Siegel at PACE Worldwide! Check out this great post about fume extraction and how to best establish a safe work environment and protect yourself from fume hazards while soldering. Enjoy!
As an operator in the SMT industry, one of the first things you learn is when working on PCBs, the fumes produced from the fluxes can be hazardous to the human body. Medical research has confirmed that exposure to flux fumes increases incidences of: Occupational Asthma, Chronic Bronchitis, Allergic Reactions and Contact Dermatitis. These hazards remain as long as fumes are airborne. So it can be said that fume extraction is just as important as any other safety equipment in the work place. But is your fume extractor successfully eliminating these airborne hazards? There can be two reasons why you may still be in danger even with a name-brand fume extractor.
As you may already know, when rosin-based flux is heated, it emits fumes of colophony. These fumes contain tiny particles that are much easier to inhale and stick on to the alveoli of the lungs, causing occupational asthma. Imagine inhaling gaseous pine sap, because that’s basically what it is. The word colophony has Greek origins and comes from the term “colophonia resina” which means ‘Resin from the pine trees of Colophon’. Colophon is an ancient Greek city in the former region of Ionia, which presently lies within the Turkish border. Why did I share this? Well, because fun facts are fun!
Of course nowadays, the introduction of water-soluble fluxes have created considerable competition for rosin-based fluxes as the water soluble fluxes are more active in wetting and dissolving oxides from the work area. But this more active flux, and its new composition of chemicals and acids, still releases fumes that may contain hazardous breathable particles.
Since particle inhalation is the main cause of these fume-related ailments, it is important to eradicate the biggest percentage of particles in the filtration system, but there are a few factors that can deter this. Firstly, if a filter is not replaced regularly, it ceases to perform the job it’s intended for. An over-used filter can be dangerous as it is no longer expunging the amount of particles required for a safe work environment. Secondly, the EU filter, unless dealing with high efficiency filters, is usually a ballpark estimate and it is possible that a company, unbeknownst to them, can be advertising a filter that performs less than believed. These mislabels are more likely to occur between an EU rating of 4 and 8. Filters rated between 4 and 6 are unable to efficiently expunge particle sizes less than .1 micron.
The perception also exists in the industry that a fume extractor’s sole purpose is to get the hazardous fumes away from the operators face. This is a misconception, as the fumes can potentially be blown into another operators face. This problem is amplified on a production floor. Fume Extractor manufacturers have since implemented multi-filter systems in order to convert the fumes into clean breathable air, before being reintroduced back into the environment. But there are still many extractors in the market that fail to do this. Therefore, it is important to recognize that a fume extractor has two tasks: Extracting fumes from the operators face, and keeping the whole working environment free of hazardous fumes.
Remember, just because the initial plumes of smoke are no longer in sight does not mean it should be out of mind. If your fume extractor has an old filter or does not suit your type of work environment, you will always be at risk of particle inhalation. You’ll never know when you’re being exposed, so please take the correct measures when buying a fume extractor for your work area.
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