This document provides safety precautions for lead soldering operations, although the majority of information will also apply to operations using other types of solder.
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Lead (Pb) is a known neurotoxin and can pose other significant chronic health effects, such as reproductive problems, digestive problems, memory and concentration problems, muscle and joint pain. Therefore, solder that contains lead is considered to be toxic. If lead-containing soldering material is not safely handled, workers may be inadvertently exposed. However, when the solder is handled and treated appropriately, there is minimal hazard to any person working with the solder.
Potential exposure routes from soldering include ingestion of lead due to surface contamination. The digestive system is the primary means by which lead can be absorbed into the human body. Skin contact with lead is, in and of itself, harmless, but getting lead dust on your hands can result in it being ingested if you don’t wash your hands before eating, smoking, etc. An often overlooked danger is the habit of chewing fingernails. The spaces under the fingernails are great collectors of dirt and dust. Almost everything that is handled or touched may be found under the finger nails. Ingesting even a small amount of lead is dangerous because it is a cumulative poison which is not excreted by normal bodily function.
Soldering with lead (or other metals used in soldering) may produce fumes that are hazardous. In addition, using flux containing rosin (also called colophony) produces solder fumes that, if inhaled, can result in occupational asthma or make existing asthmatic conditions worsen. The fumes can also cause eye and upper respiratory tract irritation.
It is not expected that occasional soldering activities that take place within areas that are well ventilated or have additional local exhaust ventilation will pose an occupational hazard to the employee. However, it is prudent to implement best practices regardless of the frequency and duration of soldering. For additional information or if you have exposure concerns, contact the Environmental Health & Safety (EH&S) Office at 412-268-8182.
The content of this document includes:
2. General Safety Precautions
2.1 Soldering Iron Safety
2.2 Working with Solder, Flux and Cleaners
2.3 Reduce Risk of Personal Exposure
2.4 Reduce Risk from Electricity
2.5 Fire Prevention
2.6 First Aid for Burns
2.7 Hazard Communication Requirements
2.8 Waste Management
3. Solder Dross/Residues
Potential for Silver and/or Lead contamination
Source: Carnegie Mellon University